England in the fourteenth century

England in the fourteenth century

The State of the Country

  • England in the fourteenth century was a highly feudal society with the king at the top, followed by ranks of nobility, clergy, and the common people.
  • The population was around 4 million, but it experienced a sharp decline due to the Black Death pandemic in the mid-century.
  • Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy with common people working as labourers or tenants on lands owned by the nobility.
  • There were rising tensions among the social classes due to disparity in wealth and power.

Major Political Events

  • King Edward III ruled between 1327 and 1377. His reign saw the start of the Hundred Years’ War against France, beginning in 1337.
  • The war put a considerable strain on the economy and witnessed heavy taxation, causing discontent among the masses.
  • The Black Death in the 1340s killed around half of England’s population, leading to a severe labour shortage and societal upheaval.
  • The Peasants’ Revolt, in 1381, was a direct result of the social and economic pressures and is one the most famous uprisings in English history.

The Church

  • The Catholic Church was extremely powerful and exerted significant influence over the government and society.
  • It was the era of avignon papacy (1309-1377) when popes resided not in Rome but Avignon, which somewhat undermined Rome’s authority.
  • Religious teachings and practices were often criticised, leading to the early seeds of the Lollard movement, begun by John Wycliffe.

Culture and Learning

  • The 14th century marked a transitional period in English literature from medieval to Renaissance.
  • Geoffrey Chaucer, famous for his work ‘The Canterbury Tales’, greatly contributed to the development of the English language and literature.
  • Despite the Feudal system constraining the majority of the population, there was a growing interest in education and literacy, particularly in urban areas.