The 14th century

by Noah Coley

The black death

In October 1347, two months after the fall of Calais, Genoese trading ships put into the harbor of Messina in Sicily with dead and dying men at the oars. The ships had come from the Black Sea port of Caffa (now Feodosiya) in the Crimea, where the Genoese maintained a trading post. The diseased sailors showed strange black swellings about the size of an egg or an apple in the armpits and groin. The swellings oozed blood and pus and were followed by spreading boils and black blotches on the skin from internal bleeding. The sick suffered severe pain and died quickly within five days of the first symptoms

"The little ice age"

Two great natural disasters struck Europe in the 14th Century. One was climatic: the Little Ice Age. This term is used in wildly varied ways by different authors, and there actually seem to have been two cooling episodes: an earlier one from the late 1200's to 1600 or so, and a later one in the 1700's and 1800's. During the earlier one, the Baltic Sea froze over in 1303, 1306 and 1307, something never before recorded. Alpine glaciers advanced. The Norse settlements in Greenland were cut off and grain cultivation ceased in Iceland. The last ship sailed from Iceland to Greenland in the early 1400's (tantalizingly close to Columbus); when contact was resumed in the 1700's, the settlements were long abandoned.

A hundred year war

France was plunged into turmoil by the Hundred Years War (1337-1450). William the Conqueror had invaded England in 1066 and established French rule in England. With French-descended rulers on the throne of England, it was only a matter of time before someone emerged who had a claim on the throne of both countries. The problem was complicated by the fact that English monarch Henry II had married Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose holdings - much of southwestern France - passed under partial control of England. Under the complex rules of the time, however, that rule was still subject to that of the King of France. Edward III of England seems to have launched the war to gain total sovereignty over the region.