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27 Jul

Political Changes in the Late Middle Ages

The Late Middle Ages went through major political changes which were marked by the rise of strong and royalty-based nation-states: England, France and the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. The mentioned states saw the rise of centralized royal government which depended on collaboration or subjugation of the estates of the realm consisting of nobility, clergy and commoners (the Parliament in England, the General Estates in France and the Cortes in the Christian Kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula).

The most notable events of the Late Middle Ages were the Ottoman expansion which resulted in the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the Hundred Years’ War fought between France and England from 1337 to 1453. The Hundred Years’ War delayed the progress and prosperity in both England and France but it strengthened royal authority in both kingdoms and greatly influenced the development of modern nation-states. The war ended favorable for France which afterwards finally established strong central government and completed the unification of France by incorporating the Duchy of Burgundy, Provence with Marseille and the Duchy of Brittany.

The defeat in the Hundred Years’ War ended the English aspirations on the Continental Europe, while the English occupation with war against France enabled Ireland to develop virtual independence under English overlordship. After the victory of Robert the Bruce over the English forces in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 England temporarily lost Scotland which afterwards developed into a strong state under Stuarts, while the Welsh Revolt in 1400 resulted in the semi-independence of Wales. Almost immediately after the end of the Hundred Years’ War broke out a civil war over the English throne between the adherents of the House of Lancaster and the House of York known as the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485). However, the Wars of the Roses which ended with the accession of Henry VII to the English throne resulted in the establishment of a strong, central royal government.

Iberian Peninsula saw the unification of the most powerful Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula – Aragon and Castile which was achieved through marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon with Isabella of Castile in 1469. Unified Aragon and Castile continued the war against the Moors and by capturing Granada in 1492 finally ended the Moorish rule in the Iberian Peninsula and completed the Reconquista.

The three Scandinavian kingdoms – Denmark, Norway (with Iceland and Greenland) and Sweden were united under Queen Margaret I of Denmark in the Kalmar Union in 1397. The Kalmar Union unified the Scandinavian countries theoretically as equal but Denmark as the strongest state was dominating the union. The election of Gustav Vasa as King of Sweden in 1523 resulted in the collapse of the Kalmar Union although it was never formally dissolved.

In contrary to England and France, the political changes in Germany caused further decentralization of the central government. Numerous petty states emerged after the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire often ruled by nobles who claimed to be independent rulers, while the office of the Holy Roman Emperor was elective. The Holy Roman Emperors during the period of the Late Middle Ages were either elected from the House of Habsburg or the House of Luxembourg. Like Germany, Italy was not a nation-state in any aspect. The Italian peninsula was dominated by the cities-states (Florence, Milan, Venice, Genoa) competing with each other for supremacy.

Major political changes also occurred in Eastern Europe which saw the establishment of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, a predecessor of the Russian national state and the rise of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. However, the greatest changes probably occurred in Southeastern Europe which was invaded by the Ottomans who finally destroyed the Byzantine Empire and made the Slavic kingdoms of the Balkan Peninsula their vassal states.

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