Late Middle Ages

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The Holy Roman Empire in the Late Middle Ages (around 1400)

The period of European history from the middle of the 13th to the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th century (i.e. approx. 1250 to 1500) is referred to as the late Middle Ages . It represents the final phase of the Middle Ages , which is followed by the early modern period .

A general temporal limitation of the transition from the late Middle Ages to the Renaissance is not possible, since the latter is essentially defined from the cultural-philosophical and art-historical development. Depending on how open the respective scholars and patrons in the European cultural centers were to the new development, the renaissance spread at different speeds in the European regions.

In older research, the late Middle Ages were often viewed as a time of crisis due to certain phenomena in art and culture, agricultural problems and political changes in the Roman-German Empire . This negative assessment concerned German Medieval Studies in particular , because there the sequence of the Middle Ages was defining in three stages and it was believed that the late Middle Ages were ultimately a time of political crisis, a "period of decline". Such a sharp distinction was not made in Italy or France. In more recent German-language research, judgments are also much more differentiated, mainly due to new research approaches and new sources: For all problems that occurred, the late Middle Ages were characterized by increased mobility and internationality, changes in various areas of life and finally the transition to early modernity. In this respect, there has been a clear paradigm shift in German research in the late Middle Ages.


Around 1300, famines and epidemics such as the Great Famine 1315-1317 and the Black Death 1347-1353 spread and reduced the population to about half. Social upheavals and civil wars led to serious popular uprisings ( Jacquerie and Peasants' Revolt ) in France and England , and the Hundred Years War broke out between these two states . The unity of the church was shaken by the Great Schism . At the end of the Crusades (1095–1291) the Byzantine Empire had sunk to an insignificant regional power. In the course of the Islamic expansion, Islam spread to Central Asia and the Iberian Peninsula . The 200 year conflict had changed the conduct of war and society as well. The losers of that era were mainly feudal lords and chivalry . But also the papacy and empire lost authority. The entirety of these events has often been called the crisis of the late Middle Ages , although this model has become very controversial. Modern research has opened up new sources, developed new questions and has come to a significantly more positive assessment of this time.

The 14th century was also a time of artistic and scientific advancement. The rediscovery of the texts of ancient Greece and Rome led to the Renaissance , the "rebirth" of ancient intellectual life. This development had already begun with the contact with the Arabs during the Crusades and was accelerated by the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire . Many Byzantine scholars fled to the West, particularly to Italy . The invention of the printing press made the spread of writing easier and democratized learning as an important prerequisite for the later Protestant church reformation . The rise of the Ottoman Empire up to the fall of Constantinople (1453) cut off the traffic routes to the east, but the rediscovery of the American continent by Columbus (1492) and the circumnavigation of the African continent by Vasco da Gama (1498) opened up new trade routes. The winners were merchants and artisans, bankers and councilors, who were able to lead an increasingly free life under the protection of the developing cities, more independent of secular and ecclesiastical authorities. The Reformation (1517) and the German Peasants' War (1525/26) ushered in the early modern period .

All of these developments mark the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era . It should be noted that this classification remains arbitrary, as ancient knowledge never completely disappeared from European society. There has been a certain continuity since classical antiquity , and there were also considerable regional differences. Some historians - especially in Italy - do not speak of the late Middle Ages as the transition period between the Middle Ages and modern times, but rather consider the Renaissance as such.

Political history

Holy Roman Empire

After the death of the Hohenstaufen emperor Friedrich II on December 13, 1250, the interregnum began in the Holy Roman Empire , a time of instability with several kings and counter-kings, in which above all the power of the electoral college, which was now finally forming, was strengthened (see for the following Time Germany in the late Middle Ages ). The interregnum did not end until 1273 when Rudolf von Habsburg was elected king. After disputes with the King of Bohemia , Přemysl Ottokar II , whom Rudolf defeated in the Battle of Marchfeld on August 26, 1278, he acquired Austria , Styria and Carniola and thus laid the foundation for the rise of the House of Habsburg to the most powerful Dynasty in the empire. Rudolf's successors, Adolf von Nassau and Albrecht I , were in conflict with the electors, who in 1308 elected Heinrich VII of Luxembourg as king. Heinrich tried to renew the empire based on the Staufer period. He undertook an Italian campaign in 1310 and was crowned emperor in June 1312 as the first Roman-German king after Friedrich II, but died in August 1313. In 1314 there was a double election: Ludwig the Bavarian from the Wittelsbach family competed with Frederick the Fair from the House of Habsburg, where Ludwig was finally able to prevail, but soon got into a serious conflict with the papacy (see John XXII. and Clement VI. ). In the empire, the Luxembourgers took advantage of the Pope's invitation to elect a new king, and in 1346 Charles IV of the House of Luxembourg was elected king by four electors. There was no longer a fight between Karl and Ludwig, as the latter died shortly afterwards.

The Golden Bull of Charles IV.

In 1356, Charles IV issued the Golden Bull , a kind of basic law of the Holy Roman Empire. With it, the circle of electors who were admitted to the election of a king was officially established. Karl also pursued an extremely successful domestic power policy . However, his son and successor Wenzel could not continue his father's policy; he was finally deposed in 1400 due to incompetence by the electors, who elected Ruprecht of the Palatinate as the new king. He tried hard, but ultimately unsuccessful, also due to insufficient funds. With the death of King Sigismund in 1437, the royal dignity was permanently transferred from the Luxembourgers to the Habsburgs. The empire remained fragmented and large parts of the real power lay with the secular and spiritual territorial lords and in the north with the Hanseatic League . In 1495 an imperial reform was decided at the Worms Reichstag , which, among other things, forbade any kind of feud ( eternal land peace ) and introduced an annual convocation of the Reichstag, an imperial tax and an imperial chamber court independent of the king . This enabled the princes to enforce their demand for more participation by the imperial estates.


France developed under the Capetians in the 13th century to become the most important political force in Western Europe. As early as the late Staufer period, France had pursued a policy of expansion in the border area with the Roman-German Empire, the intensity increasing after the death of Frederick II. A conflict arose between the power-conscious Philip IV and Pope Boniface VIII at the beginning of the 14th century due to Philip's taxation of the French clergy. Boniface issued the famous papal bull Unam Sanctam , in which the papacy's absolute claim to leadership in secular issues was postulated, but Philip managed to have the pope arrested for a while. Shortly afterwards Boniface died, his successor Benedict XI. held office for barely a year, and the following Clemens V could not assert himself against the French king on many issues; it was the beginning of the so-called Avignon papacy .

In 1328 the House of Valois succeeded the Capetians, who died out in the male line . Due to competing claims to the throne of the English King Edward III. Plantagenet began the Hundred Years War, which lasted until 1453, in 1337 . The English troops, which were better led and who had the dreaded longbow archer, achieved considerable success and controlled large parts of France around 1360; the population also suffered from marauding mercenary associations ( Armagnacs ) and epidemics ( Black Death ).

Joan of Arc
painting between 1450 and 1500

At the end of the 14th century, a war of attrition had pushed the English back to a few bases on the Atlantic coast and the English Channel. In 1415, however, Henry V renewed the war; he destroyed the French army in the battle of Azincourt on October 25, 1415. Finally, Philip the Good , the powerful Duke of Burgundy , sided with England after his father was murdered by supporters of the Valois, even if the alliance broke up again a few years later. In 1420, the French King Charles VI recognized. Heinrich's claims in the Treaty of Troyes , but he died soon afterwards; the unification of France with England, which he had hoped for, had failed, even if troops loyal to the Valois only controlled areas in the south of France. The appearance of Joan of Arc (Joan of Arc ) turned the course of the war in France's favor. In 1429 she led the Dauphin Charles VII to Reims for the anointing of the king . However, Charles VII was able to come to an agreement with the Duke of Burgundy in 1435, whereby the King granted the Duke a great deal of independence (which was only to be ended under Louis XI in 1477). The English were now finally on the defensive and withdrew in 1453; only Calais remained for them as the last base on the continent.

France now became active again in an expansive manner: Charles VIII invaded Italy in 1494, which severely disturbed the balance of power that had prevailed there until then. Almost 30 years later, Emperor Charles V also intervened in Italy; a decade-long struggle began between the Valois and Habsburgs for supremacy in Europe.

British Islands

The Battle of Azincourt

The Battle of Bannockburn ended English attempts to subdue Scotland in 1314 and allowed the Scots to form a strong state under the Stuarts . From 1337, England turned its attention primarily to the Hundred Years War with France. With his victory at Azincourt in 1415, Henry V brought the unification of the two kingdoms within reach, but his son Henry VI. wasted the benefit. Almost immediately after the end of the war in 1453 the dynastic conflicts of the Wars of the Roses (1455–1485) began. They ended with the succession to the throne of Henry VII and the strong central power of the Tudor monarchy. While England's attention was so distracted, Ireland achieved practically extensive independence under its formal suzerainty.


After the failure of the union between Sweden and Norway (1319-1365), the Scandinavian Kalmar Union was founded in 1397 . The Swedes were reluctant to join the Danish-dominated union and left after the Stockholm carnage in 1520. Norway, on the other hand, lost its influence and remained united with Denmark until 1814. The Norwegian colony on Greenland went under in the 15th century, probably due to the deteriorating climatic conditions.

See also: History of Scandinavia , History of Denmark , History of Norway, and History of Sweden

Southern Europe

In 1469, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon married , forming the territory of modern Spain . In 1492 the Moors were expelled from Granada and the Reconquista (retaking) was thus completed. Portugal had slowly explored the coast of Africa during the 15th century and in 1498 Vasco da Gama found the sea route to India . The Spanish rulers met this challenge by supporting Columbus' expedition, who sought a western sea route to India - he discovered America the same year that Granada fell.

In Italy , local rulers of the Guelphs and Ghibellines benefited from the decline in imperial rule in the 13th century . While the Ghibellines usually relied more on the nobility, Guelfism showed a certain proximity to "republicanism" and was supported by the Church, France and the Anjous in the fight against the rule of the Roman-German kings: as the Guelfi Florentines used the word "Ghibelline" was about synonymous with "sole ruler". Mainly, however, the terms were used to designate competing city parties.
Florence and Venice grew into powerful city republics through finance and trade, which were the main political actors in Tuscany and the north. The Medici family, who had dominated Florence since 1434, promoted the arts and thus became a driving force of the Renaissance. With the return of the papacy to Rome in 1378, this city once again became a political and cultural metropolis. In the north, on the other hand, the influence of the Roman-German rulers, which had existed since the time of
Otto I , died out almost completely after the end of the Hohenstaufen . The Italian move of Henry VII (1310-13) represented the last serious attempt to restore the imperial rights in Upper and Central Italy to the communes, the Pope and the King of Naples (see Robert von Anjou ), with which Heinrich, however, also due to his early death, failed. Ludwig the Bavarian and Charles IV were hardly active in Italy, while Ruprecht of the Palatinate was bloodily beaten off by Gian Galeazzo Visconti in the Alps. The Peace of Lodi of 1454 with the full form of the Italian lega universale is already considered an event of the Renaissance, the transition period to modern times. Politically, Italy was shaken after Charles VIII's campaign in Naples . This marked the beginning of the wars for hegemony in Italy that continued into the 16th century and the final end of the Middle Ages in this region.

See also: History of Spain , History of Italy , History of Portugal , Republic of Venice , Venetian colonies , Genoa , Republic of Genoa , Genoese colonies , Republic of Pisa and the Papal States

Eastern Europe

The Byzantine Empire had dominated Southeast Europe politically and culturally for centuries. Even before the fall of Constantinople in 1453, however, it had sunk to a tributary vassal of the Ottoman Empire , consisting only of the city of Constantinople and a few Greek enclaves.

After the fall of Constantinople, the parts of south-eastern Europe that he had ruled were firmly under Turkish control and remained so until the failed second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 and the Battle of Kahlenberg . For the Greeks a foreign rule began that lasted until the beginning of the 19th century, in which only the Orthodox Church remained as a point of reference. The other Balkan countries such as Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Albania (see Skanderbeg ) and Bulgaria became part of the Ottoman Empire.

When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, Pope Calixt III called. Christianity on the crusade . The Christian army, which defeated the Ottoman army in the Battle of Belgrade in 1456 , also included a large number of Croats, led by the Franciscan John of Kapistran . In 1519 Pope Leo X recognized the Croats as Antemurale Christianitatis (Latin "Bulwark of Christianity", literally "Vormauer") because they resisted the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe. After the Christian army had been wiped out by the Turks in the battle of Mohács in 1526, the Kingdom of Hungary also came under Ottoman rule, and the Ottomans now also threatened the rest of Europe. The result of the Croatian defense efforts in the 15th century were 30 military campaigns and 70 destroyed cities.

In the north, the main development of those years was the enormous growth of the Lithuanian and then Polish-Lithuanian kingdom . Far to the east the lost Golden Horde in 1380, the Battle of Kulikovo ( Schnepf field ) and had the supremacy of the Grand Duchy of Moscow recognized as a regional power of the declining Kievan Rus had to give way. In 1480, after standing on the Ugra , Ivan the Great finally ended Mongol rule in Russia and laid the foundations of the Russian national state .

See also: History of Bulgaria , History of Croatia , History of Greece , History of Poland , History of Lithuania, and History of Russia

Society and economy

Cosimo de 'Medici established the influence of his family.

On May 18, 1291, Muslim armies took Acre , the last Christian fortress in the Holy Land. This event only formally signified the end of the Crusades. Long before that, the situation in the “Occident” had changed. The crusades created the basis for cultural and economic contacts with Byzantium and the Islamic areas further to the east. Byzantium was the marketplace where practically everything was available, and Europe was introduced to new trade goods, silks, spices, fruit and mirrors made of glass. Most goods were only affordable to rich Europeans, but there was money to be made from trade and transport. The newfound money economy was still young, in northern Italy developed the first banche , parlors of Italian moneychangers and credit lenders, and finally the large trading companies  - companies, international trade and production financed in a big way, and for that the state often special privileges and monopolies received . The greatest financiers even paid for the wars of the rulers. Families such as the German Fuggers , the Italian Medici, and the de la Poles in England achieved enormous political and economic power.

But the economy could not be based solely on imports, there was also a brisk export to the east: European traders sent shipments of woolen fabrics, grain, flax, wine, salt, wood and furs to the Orient. The fact that the Mediterranean was exempt from Islamic domination (and related tariff claims) encouraged Europeans to build merchant fleets despite little experience. Genoa and Venice in particular owed their rise to the flourishing east-west trade. New manufacturing methods spread, especially for fabrics, fabrics and metals.

Demand was boosted by the emergence of specialized markets and fairs. The feudal lords ensured that these events ran smoothly, they kept the market peace and received income from customs duties and trade taxes. The annual champagne fairs in French Champagne were particularly well known at that time . Traders from all over Europe and the Middle East moved from place to place, buying and selling and creating a trading network as far as Scotland and Scandinavia. When the traders united to move their goods more safely across the country on larger trade trains, they also gained more influence, e.g. B. when it came to agreeing prices and cheaper road tariffs. The Hanseatic League represented the most powerful community of trading partners who were guided by similar interests . The Association of North German Merchants, founded in 1254, built a veritable empire on the Baltic and North Sea under the eyes of various local rulers and fought for independence and power - if necessary necessary by force of arms.

In the 15th century, the importance of the champagne fairs for north-south trade decreased. Instead, the sea route between Flanders and Italy was preferred. Furthermore, more and more English wool merchants began to export clothes instead of wool, to the detriment of the Dutch cloth manufacturers. Another decisive factor was the hindrance to trade with the Levant due to the change from the Byzantine to the Ottoman Empire. Alternative trade routes had to be opened - around the southern tip of Africa to India and across the Atlantic to America.

These changes also encouraged the creation and growth of cities. From the decline of the Roman Empire to around the year 1000, hardly any new cities were founded in Europe. With the flourishing of trade relations, the need for new trading centers and the establishment of new cities along the trade and transport routes soon followed. From around 1100 to 1250, the number of city rights in Europe increased tenfold, a development that initially continued in the late Middle Ages, but was then interrupted by the demographic catastrophe following the Great Plague . Cities like Innsbruck , Frankfurt , Hamburg , Bruges , Ghent and Oxford were only now on the rise. A small town usually had around 2,500 inhabitants, an important city around 20,000. Today's metropolises like London and Genoa had 50,000 inhabitants. The largest metropolises with around 100,000 inhabitants were Paris , Venice and Milan . " City air makes you free " was the motto of the time. Countless unfree, serfs and impoverished peasants moved to the cities, and brisk building activity supported the development. The cities developed a political awareness, they freed themselves from the nobility and the church, levied their own customs duties and taxes and established their own jurisdiction. The first local governments emerged in northern and central Italy and were quickly imitated across Europe. Craftsmen and traders' guilds also developed in the cities, which gained a decisive influence on economic life.

Education and universities

Late medieval Boëthius edition

In the early and high Middle Ages, elementary education such as reading, writing and arithmetic was only available to a small group of people. The broad mass of the people, even the nobility, had little or very little education. Only in the monastery schools was it possible to acquire education, but only for those who were ready to commit themselves to service in the order. From around the year 1000, parallel to the flourishing of the cities, so-called cathedral schools emerged . They also trained aristocratic and bourgeois sons, and even serfs, without submitting them to religious life. The cathedral schools, which developed particularly strongly in France, limited the subject matter to the seven "liberal arts", the learning of which was characteristic of free citizens even in ancient Rome, the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, astronomy , Geometry, music). Only a few recognized writers from late antiquity and the early Middle Ages such as Boëthius , Cassiodor or Isidore of Seville were read .

With the crusades, the Christian West came into contact with the spiritual world of Islam. Many Europeans hungry for education got to know Arabic mathematics , astronomy, medicine and philosophy; in the libraries of the Orient they read the original text of Greek classics such as Aristotle (very often called “the philosopher” in the Middle Ages) for the first time . Many impulses also came from the Islamic occupied part of Spain, especially to France. The then exemplary education system of the Islamic world was willingly adopted. The regulations and curricula of European monastery and cathedral schools struggled to integrate the new content.

Although at the beginning of the 12th century Petrus Abelardus, as one of the pioneers of this development, was still exposed to ecclesiastical persecution, especially by Bernhard von Clairvaux , the emergence of free universities could no longer be prevented. With the growth of the successful commercial metropolises, the universities also emerged from the middle of the 13th century: Bologna , Padua , Paris, Orléans, Montpellier, Cambridge and Oxford, to name just a few of the foundations of this time. It soon became a matter of good form for a wealthy city to accommodate well-known scholars and many students within its walls.

The early universities of the late Middle Ages had no permanent buildings or lecture rooms. Depending on the situation, public spaces were used for lectures: in Italy it was often the town squares, in France cloisters in churches and in England the lectures were often held on street corners. It was only later that successful teachers, who were paid directly by their students for each lecture, rented rooms for their lectures. And soon there was the first student unrest: even if a university was the pride of a city, there were often disputes with the students organized in Bünden because of too high prices for board and lodging and criticism because of too much dirt on the streets or fraudulent innkeepers . In Paris the clashes went so far in 1229 that the university threatened to relocate to another city after the violent death of several students. Pope Gregory IX thereupon issued a bull that guaranteed the independence of the University of Paris. From then on, even the powerful citizens could no longer impose regulations on the universities.

William of Ockham

The philosopher Wilhelm von Ockham , known for the principle of Ockham's razor , and nominalism ushered in the end of strongly theoretical scholastic debates and paved the way for empirical and experimental science . According to Ockham, philosophy should only deal with things about which real knowledge can be obtained (principle of thrift, English parsimony ). Medieval forerunners of experimental research can already be seen in the rediscovery of Aristotle and in the work of Roger Bacon . Nikolaus von Kues was particularly critical of the scholastics . For fundamental reasons he also opposes a central position of the earth and anticipates the heliocentric worldview of Nicolaus Copernicus on this point .

Shortly before and after the fall of Constantinople , Byzantine scholars increasingly poured into Europe (e.g. Bessarion ), just as Byzantine codices had already reached Europe (e.g. through Giovanni Aurispa ).

Most of the technical achievements of the 14th and 15th centuries were not of European origin, but came from China or Arabia . The revolutionary effect did not result from the inventions themselves, but from their use. Gunpowder had long been known to the Chinese, but it was only the Europeans who recognized its military potential and were able to use it for modern colonization and world domination. In this context, advances in navigation are also essential. Compass , astrolabe and sextant together with further developed shipbuilding made it possible to travel the world's oceans . Gutenberg's printing press not only made the Protestant Reformation possible, but also contributed to the dissemination of knowledge and thus to a society with more literate people.

Climate and Agriculture

Around 1300–1350, the Medieval Warm Age merged into the Little Ice Age that followed . The colder climate reduced harvests; Famine , epidemics and civil wars followed. The most important events were the Great Famine 1315–1317, the Black Death , and the Hundred Years War . When the population of Europe fell in half, land became plentiful for survivors and, as a result, labor became more expensive. Attempts by landowners to legally limit wages - as with the English Statute of Laborers 1351 - were doomed to failure. It was practically the end of serfdom in most of Europe. In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, there were only a few large cities with a vibrant bourgeoisie to stand up to the big landowners. Therefore they succeeded there in forcing the rural population into even stronger oppression.


The apocalyptic mood that prevailed in parts, but by no means as a whole , often led to the desire for a direct experience of God . The Bible study gave people the picture of the simple way of life of Jesus Christ and the apostles , a model that the existing church did not live up to, precisely because the papacy had resided in Avignon ( Avignon Papacy ) since 1309 and was increasingly distant from the people. In addition, there was the occidental schism of 1378, which could only be ended by conciliarism ( Council of Constance ). As a result of the crisis of faith, more and more mendicant orders and apostolic congregations emerged who wanted to devote themselves to the simple life. Many of them were persecuted by the Church for heresy , such as the Waldensians , Cathars or the Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit . In the late Middle Ages, the persecution of Jews occurred across Europe for similar reasons , with many Jews emigrating to East Central Europe .

The Great Occidental Schism

The Papal Palace in Avignon

From the early 14th century the papacy came increasingly under the influence of the French crown, up to and including the relocation of its seat to Avignon in 1309. When the pope decided to return to Rome in 1377, different popes were elected in Avignon and Rome, with the result of the so-called occidental schism (1378-1417). The split in the church was a political as well as a religious matter; while England supported the Roman Pope, its war opponents France and Scotland sided with the Pope in Avignon. Italy and especially Rome judged in the self-understanding that the old imperial seat was the rightful place for the seat of the Church of Jesus Christ. However, in the battle for the throne in Naples, the older Anjou were forced to go to Avignon, Visconti-Milan wavering due to relations with France.

At the Council of Constance (1414-1418) the papacy was reunited in Rome. Although the unity of the Western Church continued for a hundred years after that, and although the Holy See amassed greater wealth than ever before, the Great Schism had caused irreparable damage. The internal conflicts of the church promoted anti-clericalism among rulers and the ruled, and the division made reform movements possible with ultimately decisive changes.

Reform movements

John Wycliffe

Although the Western Church had fought against heretical movements for a long time, internal church reform efforts arose in the late Middle Ages. The first was designed by Oxford Professor John Wyclif in England. Wycliffe advocated viewing the Bible as the only authority on religious matters and rejected transubstantiation , celibacy and indulgences . He also translated the Bible into English. Although she had influential friends in the English aristocracy, such as John of Gaunt , Wyclif's party, the Lollards , was ultimately suppressed.

Jan Hus

The teachings of the Bohemian priest Jan Hus were based on those of John Wyclif with few changes. Yet his followers, the Hussites , had a much greater political impact than the Lollards. Hus gathered numerous followers in Bohemia and when he was burned for heresy in 1415 , it caused a popular uprising. The following Hussite Wars did not end with the national or religious independence of Bohemia, but the church and German influence were weakened.

Martin Luther

Portrait of Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder Ä.

The Reformation is, strictly speaking, no longer in the late Middle Ages, but they ended the unity of the Western Church, which is one of the main features was the Middle Ages.

Martin Luther, a German monk, initiated the Reformation through his position on numerous theological issues. The social basis of this movement consisted of workers, students and young people, especially his criticism of the indulgence trade and penance. An important station was the distribution of 95 theses to his lecturing colleagues (according to legend, he should also have nailed them to the castle church in Wittenberg ). Pope Leo X renewed the sale of indulgences in 1514 for the construction of the new St. Luther was requested by the Diet of Worms (1521) to revoke his views condemned as heresy. When he refused, took him Charles V with the imperial ban . Under the protection of Frederick the Wise of Saxony, he was able to withdraw and, among other things, prepare a complete new translation of the New Testament into German , which was supplemented by a new translation of the Old Testament in 1534.

For many secular princes, the Reformation was a welcome opportunity to increase their possessions and influence, and the urban bourgeoisie and peasants could also benefit from it. The Catholic Counter- Reformation turned against the Reformation . Europe was now divided into the Protestant north and the Catholic south, the basis of the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries.



Late medieval Madonna with figures of saints (around 1410–1420)

The fine arts experienced enormous further development in the late Middle Ages.

Giotto's works emerged in the early 14th century as a forerunner of the Renaissance. In painting one speaks of the Northern Renaissance with its center in the Low Countries and the Italian Renaissance with Florence as the focal point. While northern art was more focused on patterns and surfaces, such as the paintings of Jan van Eyck , Italian painters also explored areas such as anatomy and geometry . The discovery of the vanishing point perspective ( central projection ) attributed to Brunelleschi was an important step towards optically realistic representations. The Italian Renaissance reached its peak with the art of Leonardo da Vinci , Michelangelo and Raphael .


While the Gothic cathedral remained very fashionable in the northern European countries, this architectural style never really caught on in Italy. Here, the architects of the Renaissance were inspired by classical buildings, the masterpiece of this period was Brunelleschi's Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence .


The most important development in late medieval literature was the increasing use of the vernacular over Latin . Were popular novels , often the legend of the Holy Grail had on the subject.

The author who heralded the new era before anyone else was Dante Alighieri . His Divine Comedy , written in Italian , describes a medieval-religious worldview in which he was anchored (see Monarchia ), but uses a style based on ancient models. Other supporters of Italian were Francesco Petrarca , whose canzoniere are considered the first modern poems , and Giovanni Boccaccio with his Decameron . In England, Geoffrey Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales helped establish English as a literary language. Like Boccaccio, Chaucer was more concerned with everyday life than with religious or mythological subjects. In Germany, Martin Luther's translation of the Bible finally became the basis for the German written language.


  • The New Cambridge Medieval History . Edited by David Abulafia, Christopher Allmand, Michael Jones a. a., Vol. 5-7, Cambridge 1998-2000. (The most comprehensive presentation of the European late Middle Ages with a very detailed bibliography.)
  • Ulf Dirlmeier / Gerhard Fouquet / Bernd Fuhrmann: Europe in the late Middle Ages 1215–1378 (=  Oldenbourg floor plan of history 8). Oldenbourg, Munich 2003, ISBN 978-3-486-48831-9 . ( Review )
  • Johan Huizinga : Autumn of the Middle Ages . Stuttgart 1975. (Classical representation)
  • Peter Moraw From an open constitution to structured condensation. The empire in the late Middle Ages 1250 to 1490. Propylaen Verlag, Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-549-05813-6 .
  • Malte Prietzel : The Holy Roman Empire in the Late Middle Ages (= compact history). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2004, ISBN 3-534-15131-3 . (Introduction to the political history of Germany in the late Middle Ages.)
  • Hans-Friedrich and Hellmut Rosenfeld: German culture in the late Middle Ages 1250–1500 (= Handbuch der Kulturgeschichte, I, [5]). Wiesbaden 1978, ISBN 3-7997-0713-1 .
  • Bernd Schneidmüller : Borderline Experience and Monarchical Order: Europe 1200–1500 . Beck, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-406-61357-9 .
  • John Watts: The Making of Polities: Europe, 1300–1500 (Cambridge Medieval Textbooks) . Cambridge 2009. (Current overview work with annotated bibliography.)

Web links

Wiktionary: Late Middle Ages  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. See introductory Ulf Dirlmeier, Gerhard Fouquet, Bernd Fuhrmann: Europa im Spätmittelalter 1215-1378. Munich 2003, pp. 153 ff. See also Bernd Schneidmüller: Consensus - Territorialization - Self-interest. How to deal with late medieval history. In: Frühmittelalterliche Studien 39, 2005, pp. 225–246.
  2. See the contributions by Walter Buckl (Ed.): The 14th Century. Crisis time. Regensburg 1995.
  3. ^ Elke Goez: History of Italy in the Middle Ages . Darmstadt 2010, p. 252 ff .; Christopher Allmand (Ed.): New Cambridge Medieval History . Volume 7, Cambridge 1998, p. 547 ff.