HARD TIMES AND NEW DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

Easy times are not when we create solutions to problems. I was sitting here today thinking about the 1400s.

Not everybody sits around thinking about the 1400s, but I do and fairly often. It’s part of the pleasure and burden of a deep passion for history. Right now, I’m reading a series of books about the Tudors. The early Tudors. Owen, Edmond, and Jasper. And, of course, Henry who became the seventh of the many Henrys of England.

The 1300s were a horror show for the old world.

The bubonic plague hit the continent in the 1340s, arriving on ships from (probably) Constantinople. The Black Death swept Europe.

Beginning in 1346 and continuing through 1353, the number of deaths — from war, disease, or anything — is unparalleled in human history. Ultimately, the Black Death killed more than 25 million people in Europe. And the world was much smaller, so 25-million people were the largest part of the human race.

More than half the population of Europe died in the plague and in some towns, it was as much as 100%. In other words, everybody died. The forest grew back over lands that had been sown. Murderous gangs that had formerly been remnants of disbanded armies roamed through Europe. When most of the peasants died, everyone starved because there was no one to grow new crops.

A burst of invention occurred. The peasantry, always been the least valuable members of European society, suddenly achieved importance. So few people remained who were able to grow crops, it was not unusual for peasants to go from castle to castle to see where they could get the best deal for their labor. The middle class grew too, while more than half the nobility disappeared. Between death by plague and death by war, many families slid from the bottom of nobility to the center of poverty. By the 1600s, many former nobles were tilling their own lands.

The Wars of the Roses consumed England. The printing press arrived. Europeans took to movable type with enthusiasm. The press was created sometime between 1400 and 1455. Movable type swept the scribes away.

I’m sure someone was telling everyone that this whole “printing thing” would never last. It was probably someone running a school for scribes.

The 1400s saw the invention of:

The golf ball (1400)
The piano/spinet (1400)
The trigger/matchlock (1411) The handgun arrived in 1364. Before the trigger, it was ignited with an ember or another form of portable fire.
Oil painting (1420) The paint was invented long before this in China, but oil painting techniques (Rembrandt, et al) were 15th-century.
Hoisting gear (1421)
Spectacles/eyeglasses (1450) Possibly earlier.
Printing Press (1450-55) Johannes Gutenberg
Engravings (dry) (1465)
Muzzle-loaded rifle (1475)
Parachute (1485) Leonardo Da Vinci
The copyright (1486)
Bell chimes (1487)
The map globe (1492) This is also when Leonardo was pondering flight because he had a parachute, so you ought to be able to fly, right?
Whiskey (1494)
Sometime during this same period, the moldboard plow was invented, turning agriculture on its ear. Historians are still arguing this issue.

This might not sound like a lot to you, but the invention of the printing press was a bigger deal than the mobile phone or the computer or, for that matter, electricity and diesel power. It overturned the world. Made knowledge available to the many rather than the élite few.

Back when eyeglasses were really expensive

And everybody drank the whiskey.

The point is that times were really bad in the 1300s and only nominally better in the 1400s.

These terrible old days gave the world a kick in the butt and triggered the arrival of central government among nations. It elevated the peasant and middle classes. It advanced banking and industry and art. Towns grew as guilds developed. The building industry changed and expanded. Bridges were redesigned to enable better roads. Better roads made it easier for people to take their goods to market.

Everything changed, including religion because this also was the birth of Protestantism, though it was not called that until later.

Hard times create a new world. Our two world wars were what pushed Europe into socialism and the caring world that they now (or used to) embrace. I think a lot of people forget that before the first world war, it wasn’t a caring Europe. It was a bunch of rich nobles doing whatever they felt like to anything and anyone.

The world doesn’t advance when times are easy. When all is well, we get lazy. Comfort doesn’t force change.

I’d like to think that the current awfulness is going to push us into a creative change which will ultimately improve our world. I don’t know that it will be true because I don’t think I’ll live to see the outcome of this world into the next, but I’d like to think that’s how it will go.

Categories: creativity, Culture, History, medieval history, Technology

Tags: , , , ,

26 replies

  1. I’m glad I missed those “good, old days”.


    • I so agree with Leslie, that is an impressive list of inventions.


      • They don’t sound like much, but when you realize where they were coming from — the 1200s when basically warfare involved stabbing or bumping him on the head … and they didn’t even have a deep plow to turn the earth — or eyeglasses or any way for the world to read. The jump between the 1200s and 14000s were enormous on every level.


        • It was. Makes me wonder what sort of inventions we,ll come up with next considering threes current state of affairs. Either major or were back in the stone agrees dragging all over again.


          • For us, I don’t think it will be inventions. I think it will be cultural changes. We need them. We have all the inventions we need, but we need a society worth living in.


            • That is so true! I’m scared I have to admit. This generation coming up, cares about nothing but themselves. I can’t see cultural changes coming from the teens of the world. The depth of their involvement is their friends on snapchat. I don’t get why (although it could be financial pressure) the 30 – 50 year group is sitting on their hands. They are still young enough, powerful enough to effect change.


  2. When you think about it, that’s an impressive list of inventions for the 1400’s. I too, think that we aren’t so inventive in easy times. People need problems and sometimes they need big problems to make change happen.


    • I think probably this is just the way it is. Even baby birds need a push out of the nest and it’s time we tried out our newly grown feathers. Some of us will fall, but with a little luck, the majority will fly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is the nature of things….


        • It is. I really got to thinking about this when talking with one of the Europeans bragging about how they have these great countries with free healthcare and stuff. Which reminded me that they had NONE of that before the wars. Two world wars pushed them into the changes of which they are so proud. They have every right to BE proud, but it took one hell of a disaster to make it happen. We haven’t had that disaster, at least not since the Civil War and that certainly forced a lot of changes. But rather than the world wars being disasters for us, that was when America got seriously RICH. We profited monstrously from the wars. That when we grew our industries. Everywhere else had been bombed and blown up but here, we made a fortune. I think suddenly, we are going to have our very own disaster. It’s probably overdue.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting stuff. You are so right that its the hard times that force growth. So many of us refuse to change when comfortable, and its amazing how uncomfortable we have to get to be willing to change. Its my hope that the current ridiculousness of attitudes and behavior will lead to a major shift. Not fun to witness, and hope it doesn’t require a loss of more than 50 percent of the population to occur (although that may be what the planet requires to get back in balance). not sorry that I am at the older end of the age spectrum.


    • I am sure it will lead to a big shift. I hope it’s also a BETTER shift, but I am not expecting to be around to see. Pity. I always want to see how things turn out!

      Society doesn’t move when everyone is comfortable. That’s the way has been and probably will be. I hope this discomfort will be the push we need. I think we need to move on and I don’t think we are doing it. Yet.


  4. who knew so many things were invented in the 1400s! I guess you did Marilyn! Thanks for sharing 🙂


  5. On my Time Machine dial I have the 1300’s and 1400’s blacked out.
    No pun intended.


  6. The question in my mind is whether or not things in our current world will get even worse before they get better. As a septuagenarian, I’m not too worried for myself, but I am concerned for my kids and their kids.


    • I’m pretty sure we won’t know. I would like to be wrong about it but I’m not wildly optimistic about everything turning around quickly. Yet it could. It went downhill fast enough, so in theory, it could go the other way just as fast. Will WE be here to see it? How is your lifeline looking? I have no idea, personally. I could live another 20 years and I could die tomorrow. That’s true for all of us, but probably truer for us. I don’t see the point in trying to figure it out. I can’t believe I GOT this old.


  7. I hope you are right, I’d hate to think this was all for nothing. The medieval period is very interesting to study. I did a free online course about it a couple of years ago, just for interest and enjoyed it because it was about every day life, how the ordinary people lived rather than just the doings of knights and kings. I did it through Future Learn in the UK who run a lot of online courses.



  1. HARD TIMES AND NEW DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong | onlinewriter

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