Late Middle Ages

Looking at the High Middle Ages (1000-1300) in comparison to the Late Middle Ages (1300-1500), it’s easy to think of the High Middle Ages as being the best period of medieval history. Education was thriving, people were making advances in technology, and despite the ups and downs of royals taking the throne and making decisions (good or bad), things were certainly moving forward.

Late Middle Ages Facts for Kids

  • The Late Middle Ages lasted from 1300 to 1500 AD.
  • The Black Death killed millions in Europe in this period.
  • Knights and castles were key features of this era.
  • The Hundred Years’ War took place between England and France.
  • In 1455, the Gutenberg Bible was the first book printed.
  • Joan of Arc, a famous figure, led the French in war.
  • Cities and trade began to grow rapidly.
  • The Renaissance began in Italy in the late Middle Ages.
  • Chivalry and courtly love became popular concepts.
  • The Middle Ages ended after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.


The late Middle Ages, spanning the 14th to 16th centuries, was a pivotal epoch in the transformation of the feudal system, a dominant social structure in medieval Europe. This was an era marked by the gradual decline of feudalism, paving the way for the dawn of modern states.

The authority of feudal lords dwindled as various changes unfolded, including the devastating impact of the Black Death that significantly reduced the population and disrupted the feudal system. The expansion of towns, the growth of commerce, and the evolution of a money economy gradually chipped away at the foundations of the feudal order.

Compounding these changes, the emergence of powerful monarchies and the escalating bureaucratization of government began to challenge the hierarchical and provincial nature of feudalism. Concurrently, the ascent of the middle class, who were outsiders to the conventional feudal hierarchy, further weakened the feudal structure.

The Black Death (Plague)

The late Middle Ages, a period steeped in profound catastrophe and transformation, was significantly defined by the occurrence of the Black Death.

This deadly pandemic, also known as the Plague, swept across Europe from 1347 to 1351, resulting in a death toll estimated between 75 and 200 million – approximately 60% of Europe’s total population. This significant population reduction resulted in labor shortages, instigating shifts in economic power and labor practices, while simultaneously challenging prevailing religious and political structures.

The lasting imprint of the vivid memories and stark effects of the Black Death continued to shape European society for centuries, illustrating the enduring impact of this catastrophic event.

The Hundred Years’ War

During the late middle ages, specifically the 14th and 15th centuries, the socio-economic and political landscapes of England and France were significantly reshaped by the Hundred Years’ War.

This series of intermittent conflicts, primarily ignited by English kings’ dynastic claims over the French crown, not only brought about substantial changes in both nations but also revolutionized the conduct of warfare.

The emergence of new military technologies such as longbows and early forms of artillery was among the key transformations. Moreover, the war fostered a sense of nationalism in both England and France, influencing national identity and patriotism.

Consequently, this period marked an era of increased centralization of power, signified by the decline of feudalism and the ascension of strong national monarchies, thus underscoring the profound impacts of the Hundred Years’ War during the late middle ages.

The Crusades

Throughout the late Middle Ages, the Crusades, a collection of religious wars, were instigated, endorsed, and occasionally orchestrated by the Latin Church. These crusades, predominantly focused on the Eastern Mediterranean campaigns between 1095 and 1291, were driven by the goal of reclaiming the Holy Land from Islamic rule.

The warfare introduced by the Crusaders in the Eastern Mediterranean was unparalleled, significantly shaping the era’s development. They not only altered the regional power dynamics but also greatly impacted Europe’s cultural and political growth. The Crusades nurtured a heightened sense of Christian solidarity and inspired a ‘Crusading’ mindset that permeated aspects of life like architecture, literature, and personal spirituality.

Despite their tangible shortcomings, the Crusades have remained a vital touchstone in European history and the late Middle Ages, sculpting the relationship between the Christian and Muslim worlds up until the present day.

Knights and chivalry

In the late Middle Ages, the societal framework and cultural ethos were significantly shaped by knights and the chivalric code, which were integral to the feudal system. The concept of knighthood transitioned from being a mere military obligation to a symbol of social prestige, exemplifying strength, gallantry, and nobility.

Knights were duty-bound to protect their realm and uphold their lord’s honor, guided by chivalry, a code of conduct that influenced their behavior both in warfare and in social settings. This code underscored values such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry, especially towards women.

Knights were obligated to be the defenders of the weak, demonstrate courtesy to all women, remain loyal to their king and fellow knights, and uphold fairness. The chivalric code fostered a sense of mutual respect among knights, leading to the establishment of formal tournaments and jousting activities.

Therefore, knighthood and chivalry during the late Middle Ages were far from being just about warfare; they were a code of conduct that shaped social behavior, political interactions, and personal integrity.

Gothic architecture

In the late Middle Ages, Europe was dominated by Gothic architecture, an architectural style that reflected the era’s emphasis on light and grandeur. Spanning from the 12th to the 16th century, this period saw the creation of some of the most impressive architectural marvels.

The style was defined by its distinct features such as pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses which enabled the construction of taller, more ornate structures. The incorporation of stained glass windows was another notable detail, creating an ethereal atmosphere by filtering light in a unique way. Cathedrals, specifically, epitomized this architectural trend.

Structures such as Notre Dame in Paris and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence exemplified the intricate detailing and grand scale that became synonymous with the Gothic era.

Medieval universities

The late Middle Ages marked a pivotal shift in intellectual pursuits and societal structure, encapsulated by the growth and significance of universities like the University of Oxford and the University of Paris. These burgeoning educational institutions represented the emergence of a distinct intellectual elite, separate from the traditional authority of the aristocracy and clergy.

Universities acted as a beacon for the study of various academic disciplines such as theology, law, medicine, and the arts, drawing in scholars from across Europe to engage in intellectual discourse. The period witnessed the establishment of a formal educational structure, including a standardized curriculum and the conferral of degrees, which had a profound impact on the evolution of academic disciplines and professions.

Amidst significant societal changes, the influence of these medieval universities was immense, as they played a central role in the preservation and expansion of knowledge.

Guilds and trade fairs

In the late Middle Ages, the socioeconomic landscape experienced significant shifts due to the advent of Guilds and Trade Fairs. Guilds, the medieval equivalents of craftsmen or merchants’ associations, became influential entities in shaping the structure of trade, industry, and commerce.

They established standards for the quality and pricing of goods while also offering social services like support for the sick, impoverished, and widowed. Simultaneously, Trade Fairs emerged as vibrant hubs of commercial exchange, where various guild merchants congregated to conduct business. These fairs, seen as the forerunners to modern markets, stimulated economic growth, promoted specialization, and nurtured a sense of community among merchants.

The emergence of Guilds and Trade Fairs signaled a transition towards a more organized and structured economic system in the late Middle Ages, setting the stage for the subsequent commercial revolution.

The Magna Carta

The Late Middle Ages were marked by the issuance of the Magna Carta in 1215, a significant event borne out of a conflict between King John of England and a faction of discontented barons who objected to his despotic rule.

This document proved revolutionary for its era, setting a precedent that even the monarchy was subject to the law. It was a foundational piece for several key aspects of modern constitutional law, including habeas corpus, trial by jury, and the concept of due process.

Even though it initially fell short in resolving the dispute between the king and the barons, the Magna Carta’s influence extended far beyond its time and place of origin, shaping the evolution of democratic governance and the rule of law, not only in England but globally.

The Great Schism of the Church

The late Middle Ages, spanning from approximately 1300 to 1500 AD, was a turbulent era characterized by significant transformations within the Church, primarily instigated by The Great Schism. From 1378 to 1417, this religious fissure resulted in the Catholic Church fracturing into two antagonistic groups, each claiming allegiance to a different Pope.

This tumultuous phase significantly weakened the Church’s authority and shattered the faith of numerous believers as the focus of popes and cardinals shifted from spiritual issues to political power plays, further fueling the crisis.

Consequently, The Great Schism not only served as a crucial turning point in Church history but also deeply influenced the social and cultural dynamics of the late Middle Ages.

Early 14th Centuries

The Late Middle Ages, commencing in the early 14th century, were characterized by profound shifts in European society. The period saw the advent of the Renaissance, marked by growing cultural and scientific progress, yet also bore witness to considerable strife. The Black Death, a devastating pandemic, swept across the continent, leading to significant population decline. Concurrently, societal changes led to the destabilization of feudalism, as the nascent middle class started to gain prominence, and the seeds of modern nation-states began to sprout.

Lithuania 15th Century Peasants

In the Late Middle Ages, Lithuania’s peasant class in the 15th century faced complex social changes. The Christianization of Lithuania in the late 14th century influenced everyday peasant life, introducing new religious customs and practices. While the manorial system continued to bind them to the land, shifts in agricultural techniques increased productivity. Moreover, the state’s centralization processes started to alter traditional peasant freedoms and duties. This era marked a formative period for the Lithuanian peasantry, setting the foundations for future societal developments.

Lower Middle Ages

The Late Middle Ages, commencing around the 14th century, marked a stark contrast to the preceding Lower Middle Ages. The Lower Middle Ages, also known as the High Middle Ages (1000-1300), were characterized by the Crusades, the rise of monasticism, and early feudal structures. In contrast, the Late Middle Ages saw the decline of feudalism, an increase in the importance of towns and trade, and societal shifts influenced by the devastating Black Death. These periods combined to shape the socio-political landscape of Europe, leading to the Renaissance.

High Medieval society

The Late Middle Ages, starting from the 14th century, brought significant transformations in contrast to the High Medieval society. During the High Middle Ages (11th-13th centuries), Europe experienced a population explosion, increased agricultural production, and saw the flowering of chivalry and courtly culture. However, by the Late Middle Ages, society grappled with crises like the Black Death and the Hundred Years’ War, leading to dramatic population decline, economic hardship, and social unrest. This turmoil spurred vital societal changes, setting the stage for the impending Renaissance.

Historical Eras

The Late Middle Ages, roughly spanning the 14th to the 15th century, hold a crucial position in the timeline of historical eras. This period served as a bridge between the medieval world and the early modern age. While it retained elements of feudal society from the High Middle Ages, it was also marked by significant socio-economic changes and crises, including the Black Death and the Hundred Years’ War. These upheavals spurred the decline of feudalism and the rise of nation-states, paving the way for the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery.

Great Political Influence

The decline of feudalism and the crises of the age, such as the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death, sparked a shift in political power. Centralized monarchies began to rise, gradually diminishing the influence of local lords. Furthermore, the Papacy lost considerable authority during the Western Schism, while the emergent middle class began to wield greater political influence. These developments set the stage for the political landscape of the modern era.

From Challenges to Renaissance: Uncovering the Late Middle Ages

The Late Middle Ages saw everything grind to a long halt. We’ll talk about the many issues the people of this period faced, including famine, plague, and wars over who should truly rule countries, but it’s always good to keep in mind that every period of history has its positives and negatives, and despite the challenges the people of the Late Middle Ages faced, the end result was a movement toward new thinking and the beginning of a period known as the Renaissance-the turning point of European history.

The Mysterious Weather of the Late Middle Ages: A Farmer’s Dilemma

Unlike the warm climate of the High Middle Ages, the Late Middle Ages saw fairly unstable changes in weather. Europe shifted into a cooler climate, and the land became harder to farm. The change took place slowly, and shifted back and forth, which made it hard to predict the weather. It also made it hard to tell if crops would grow enough food or simply die off. There was more rain than usual during this period, and many farms flooded, destroying what had been planted. Lands could not be looked after properly, and so they were left to waste, sitting under rainwater.

The Great Famine: When Hunger Gripped Europe

People who depended on the land for raising animals or food were forced to move, leaving homes and farmland abandoned. Land that could grow crops was hard to find, and understandably, everyone wanted a piece of it. Even this land could be difficult to farm, however, and in the end, the lack of good farmland and crops meant hunger and eventually famine for the people of Europe. This event became known as The Great Famine and lasted from 1315-1322.

Life in Cramped Cities: Crowded Streets and Sanitation Struggles

Many people died or moved to already crowded towns. Remember how many people had moved into cities during the High Middle Ages? Imagine those cramped living conditions becoming even worse! Houses were built upward rather than outward, and streets were the sizes of alleys.

The lack of sanitation practices of the time made conditions particularly bad-in other words, keeping things clean was a very hard thing to do. People dumped garbage and waste into the streets-the same narrow streets that were used to walk on throughout the city.

The Perfect Storm: Starvation, Sickness, and the Arrival of the Plague

So let’s think about what we know so far: people were starving because there wasn’t enough land to farm, and without enough land, there wasn’t enough food. This pushed people into already crowded cities that could not hold the new number of people and were already getting fairly dirty from practices of the time. Without proper diets, people became sick more easily, and serious illnesses such as rickets, gout, dysentery, and tuberculosis were common. Wars raged between England and France over who should sit on the French throne. Then, without any real warning, true disaster struck: the plague arrived in Europe.

The Black Death: A Deadly Pandemic Strikes Europe

From 1347-1349, what was known as The Black Death moved quickly across Europe, entering through port cities on the coasts and moving inland. Fleas, which carried the illness, leaped on rats, which in turn carried these fleas around on mainland Europe from ships entering ports. People who were already living in poor conditions easily caught the illness and an enormous percentage of Europe’s population died as a result. Medicine at the time had no real cures for the plague, and those who caught it often transferred it to other members of the household. It was a sad and devastating loss, and it took a very long time for Europe to become a thriving, healthy culture again.

The Renaissance Emerges: A Rebirth of Learning and Art in Europe

However, from tragedy came many good things. People realized that there was much learning to be done, and many improvements in thought and medicine to be made, and once the plague had ended and Europe began to rebuild itself, something wonderful began to happen. Language changed, even in places of learning. Middle English was spoken and used in writing, and literature became available to more and more people with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the early 1400s. Banking and commerce developed, and trade began again, this time on a larger scale.

Art shifted to a new style, showing human life as it really was and producing some of the greatest artists of Early Renaissance Europe. Patrons (supporters of the arts) began to pay for works to be created, exploration was on the rise, and a return to Greek and Roman schools of thought emerged in the beginning of the Renaissance, signaling the end of the Middle Ages.