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Possibly the most important weakness and therefore cause of instability was the elective Monarchies similar to those of the Holy Roman Empire. The rulers of the Eastern realms, generally descendants of the Jaogiellons, had not proven to be effective in resisting the noble’s independence and by 1516 the monarchy had conceded to giving the ruling noble’s free reign. This resulted in peasantry, economic decline of towns and concentration of power for the nobles, leading to an extremely unstable country and building to the overall insecurity and unrest in Europe.
Finally, one other factor that adds to this overall instability is problems such as poor communication caused by low population densities. This is shown by the fact that Poland-Lithuania had a population density of 14 people per square km, compared to 47 in Italy and 34 in France. Disunity was a result of this, as well as fragmented towns, a difficulty in political organisation and difficulty in the adoption of new ideas. Together, these added to the unrest in both Eastern Europe and Europe as a whole.
Attempts to unify Italy and Switzerland had also been unsuccessful, and this was just another problem that was adding to the turbulence in Europe. A great deal of political instability accompanied with French invasions was also creating widespread unrest. The Papacy was also causing unrest, along with contested elections and different Popes being recognised by different countries. Inconsistencies such as this led to conflict of opinions, and this would always be a source of great unrest throughout Europe. Finally, the Swiss Guards were also an important factor.
The Swiss were made rich by loaning out their excellent fighters as Mercenaries. This was always likely to cause tension between the countries that the Swiss guards were being used to fight against and the Swiss themselves, once again adding to the growing unrest of the late Middle Ages. The Ottoman Empire also played its part in the growing unrest with Europe. They controlled the whole of Turkey and were now looking to expand. This obviously created tension between the Ottoman Empire and their potential targets, creating turmoil within a large section of Europe.
The expansion was undertaken by the three main Kings (or Sultans), the first of which was Mehmed II, who bolstered the state and military and proved his competence by capturing Constantinople. Sultan Selim I then came to power, most notably expanding the Empire’s eastern and southern frontiers. Finally, Suleiman the Magnificent, who was perhaps the greatest of the three warriors, was able to build on Selim’s conquests. During his reign, he took control of Belgrade, Hungary, laid siege to Vienna, and ensured Transylvania, Walachia and Moldova were under the Ottoman’s control.
This led to the Ottoman Empire greatly influencing European culture, showing that the times were changing and generating a great deal of unrest. Although it is arguable that the new ideas being introduced by Erasmus and Aristotle could unite Europe, this is by no means plausible, and in fact had the opposite effect. These new ideas challenged the existing accepted beliefs and therefore caused large conflicts of opinion between those who believed in the traditional ideologies and those that wished to challenge them. These contrasting ideas were able to become widespread because of the Printing Press.
Large amounts of identical copies of these theories could be created quickly and cheaply. Great unrest resulted, as people were not used to the traditionally accepted ideas being challenged. Warfare and International Relations were also a major aspect of creating instability and unrest within Europe. Many new military advancements were being made, and they were given an opportunity to be tested regularly due to the shaky International Relations that were present within Europe during the late Middle Ages. Many countries and Princes were looking to expand their territories.
Artillery, Pikes and Cavalry were improving, and unrest was created when countries were worried about the growing capabilities of other countries. War’s inevitably had a negative effect on the economy which left countries in turmoil, and also left the general public extremely unhappy. They did not like the financial difficulties it resulted in, not to mention the death and destruction it resulted in for many innocent people. Although the economic changes that were taking place had a long term beneficial effect on Europe, they caused short term unrest throughout the continent.
During the Late Middle Ages, there was a shift in the “economic centre” of Europe. Instead of being based around the Mediterranean because of Italy’s dominance, it was now shifting towards the nations of the Atlantic seaboard. The city of Antwerp was now the financial and commercial centre for the European economy, and this shift in dominance created unrest within Europe. Italy was losing its ascendancy, which naturally it was unhappy about, and countries such as Spain were growing in power which created a great deal of friction. With the influx of precious materials from the New World came a need for banking and finance within Europe.
This led to several families, most notably the Fugger’s, becoming extremely prominent within Europe. They were able to become extremely rich from these activities, and were able to make many of their clients extremely rich as well. This created an even larger bridge between the rich and the poor, which is an obvious cause of unrest. The poor people were not happy with how they were being exploited for people such as the Fugger’s gain, and they were especially unhappy with how they were made to pay high levels of taxes when the extremely rich families did not have to.
Inflation, and especially the Great Price Rise, were also large causes of turbulence in the late Middle Ages. As the economy continued to grow through the early 16th Century and populations rose, there was a greater demand for goods, so accompanied with the increase of money in Europe, prices were able to rise. Wages were not rising though, leading to poverty for many individuals. The vast amounts of people who were negatively affected by this felt greatly aggrieved, feeling that wages should be rising with the inflation, but when they did not, conflict was always a possibility.
Accompanied with these consequences were the negative effects of Monopolies and Debasements, and it is clear that all of these combined effects were creating a great deal of unrest within Europe. To conclude, the late Middle Ages were certainly a time of unrest in Europe. With so many divisions within countries, it was unlikely that stability and co-operation between other countries would be possible. The changes in religious ideologies, the economy, the increasing number and growing sizes of wars and society as a whole were creating tension between countries and ultimately unrest throughout the continent.