In the past, we have looked at what would be the big events of a century, the events that, if there had been a social media buzz, would have been “trending” in that century. So, in the fourteenth century, what would the buzz be about?
Let’s begin with three honorable mentions. The first—and I’m just throwing this in because I think it’s fascinating—is Władysław I, who was the ruler in Poland for thirteen years. What’s fascinating about Władysław I is what he was called more popularly, which was “Elbow-high.” I’m not sure what that is all about; it might have had to do with his shortness of stature. The second honorable mention is the Hundred Years’ War. This war was actually more than a hundred years long; it spanned 116 years, from 1337 to 1453. It involved England and France, and I guess if you had to pick a winner, it would be France. One of the results of the Hundred Years’ War was more wars, as it led to the War of the Roses in England. This involved the House of Lancaster, symbolized by the red rose, and the House of York, symbolized by the white rose. And the third honorable mention is the Yersinia pestis bacterium, which we call the Black Plague. One-third of all people in Europe were taken by the Black Plague between 1347 and 1351.
Well, those are the honorable mentions. We have three other events that were the true trending events. The first was the Avignon Papacy; it stretched from 1309 all the way to 1377. There was a dispute at one of the conclaves—the gathering of the cardinals to choose the next pope—and out of that dispute, Clement V was elected pope, but he did not want to move to Rome. So, he simply set up the papal palace in Avignon. In total, seven popes, all French, reigned from Avignon and not from Rome.
A second thing that was trending in the fourteenth century is some good literature. We have Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales and Dante and his Divine Comedy of Purgatorio, Inferno, and Paradiso. What’s interesting about these authors is that they wrote in their native language—Chaucer in English and Dante in Italian. Most of the writing up to this time was in Latin, so this is the beginning of literature in these languages and in one sense the beginning of the cultures of these places.
And we’ve saved our best for last: our friend John Wycliffe. Wycliffe was also interested in getting literature into the English language and he was interested in getting the finest of all literature into the English language, and that, of course, is the Bible. He worked not from the original Greek and Hebrew but from the Latin, but he labored to turn that Latin text into a text that could be understood by the masses. So, he produced an early translation of the Bible into English. He died of natural causes, but that didn’t stop the church from later condemning him as a heretic, digging up his body, and burning his bones.