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The seventh volume of the Cambridge Medieval History covers, roughly speaking, the fourteenth century, and this period of time forms without undue straining one of the compartments into which the Middle Ages are conveniently divided. It is a testimony to the naturalness of this division that we take up the events in France, Germany, and England at an earlier date (1270, 1273, and 1272) than the fortunes of Italy and the Papacy, for the former entered earlier on the late medieval stage of their political development than did the latter. The feudal age, we may say with some over-accentuation, has for them merged into the age of chivalry. The change marks indeed an improvement, but not improvement unalloyed. There is also a decadence, not so much retrogression, but that ossifying of regnant ideas which are slowly losing their vitality, which draw their life not from present needs and hopes but from past aspirations, whose fulfilment men no longer expect but on whose claims they are content to pay a decent percentage in the pound. A code of rules succeeds vague enchanting ideals; legal subtleties overlay the broad principles of law; the ardent enthusiasm which led the early friars to “follow naked the naked Christ,” and gave birth to the ideal of Sir Galahad, has given way to a more practicable achievement. This was natural if only owing to the wide diffusion of these ideals; the many adapted the ideals of the heroic few to workaday circumstances, and while the ideals remained on the whole beneficent, their effect grew ever less and their weaker elements, one might say their narrowness and artificiality, grew ever more prominent.

Something of the same fixity of ideas under a disguise of change may be detected in the strictly political sphere. Internal peace and good and efficient government by means of strict royal supervision of the feudal fabric of society had been the aim of the political leaders of the last two centuries; to be anti-feudal was not in their thought. Their successors followed the same aim and elaborated remedies on the same principle with undefeated perseverance. In their efforts to perfect and complete they devised much that was new and that was to be fruitful in later times, but in their experiments the feudal conception was predominant. The novel ferment in these creations strained, but did not break the feudal mould which contained them.

New ferment indeed there was. The rise of the bourgeoisie in the towns, the steady increase of free peasants in the countryside, the multiplication and the grievances of the employees of the manufacturers, the flagrancy of ecclesiastical and administrative abuses, the contrasts of utter poverty and extravagant splendour in the capitals and princely castles, the very growth of literacy which extended knowledge, the quickening consciousness of national divergence and antipathy, the universal disaster of the Black Death and the more local horrors of the Hundred Years' War, and finally the spectacular scandal of the Great Schism, all these could not fail of effect on men’s minds. The age is one of stirring and striving: peasant and artisan beat tempestuously if in vain on that firmly-built society; kings and nobles wrestled for the control of the State; isolated thinkers discussed the theory of the Church and sowed the seeds of the future. But as yet the old foundations were too strong to be shaken. The century ends with Church and Feudalism and the accepted philosophy of life standing where they did. But they had provided no real remedies for current ills and needs; they had only baffled opposition; and the opposition they crushed or over-rode was confusedly or unconsciously germinating those new ideas which distinguish modem from medieval times.

Nowhere can the more political side of this restless fermentation be more clearly shewn than in the rival kingdoms of France and England. Their development runs parallel, alike in their broadest characteristics, contrasted in their narrower but deeper peculiarities. They were the most advanced of feudal monarchies, the countries where the feeling of nationality, in spite of provincial particularism, had most nearly coalesced with loyalty to the State. Each at the beginning of this period was a congeries of feudal jurisdictions controlled by a centralising national kingship. Against the freer feudal franchises of France may be set the greater share of the feudal class in the English royal administration. In the age of Edward I and Philip the Fair they are seen under the influence of a movement which has strong similarities in both. This is the movement to harvest the fruits of the previous unifying process, to systematise and extend the royal bureaucratic control of the State, to make the king’s governance effective. Thus in both the central government is elaborated and ramified; it is a documentary age, where a host of busy clerks exercise control and harden routine by voluminous record and sedulous red-tape. Alike in both, although with a different past and divergent tendencies, these kindred bureaucracies spread their tentacles over the life of the realm. In this encroachment the ideal of better, sounder government took an active share. Edward I and Philip the Tall were reforming, legislating, codifying kings: they legislated to redress grievances, to formulate custom, to provide better method and better law. And in the endeavour to bring home their government to their subjects, they insist on personal touch and gather their people round them in national assemblies, the English Parliament and the French States General. That they thus confirmed incidentally the representative principle has perhaps more importance for the future than for their own day. What in their own time meant most was that the never complete and then declining isolation of fief and town found the main avenue of the future thus completely barred. Isolation might continue but there was contact always in one direction, that of the central power. A national or State administration had become the reigning political conception.

The second movement, earlier (as thirteenth-century history prescribed) in England, later in France, was the natural sequel. Political strife concentrates not on the endeavour to escape from the authority of the State, but on that to control it, if not completely, yet in certain wide spheres of its activity. It was the feudal nobles, the aristocracy, who took the lead in England, and their aim was, it may be said, to make the king the representative, almost the instrument of their class. The abuses of a cumbrous administration, of greedy officials, of inconsequent royal caprice gave them a perennial cause to champion. The king resisted with all his energies and worked constantly for the sole direction of the State. The vicissitudes of the conflict, which contributed to the formation of the English constitution, are told in this volume. Here it need merely be said that Edward III won a personal victory only by taking the nobles into subordinate partnership; that his French wars ended by giving them local predominance and armed forces, under the name of Livery and Maintenance, more dangerous than the obsolete feudal sendee, while retaining the spirit of feudalism; that the Keepers of the Peace ruled the districts in which they were country gentry. When Richard II challenged the nobles in his attempt at despotism, the system of partner­ship between king and lords took formal shape as the “Lancastrian experiment”.

One expedient of the Edwards, which had many precedents, had been to endow their sons and increase their own hold on the nobility by raising them through marriage or grant to be the greatest nobles of the land; and this led under Richard II to the baronial instinct of control being strengthened by schemes of rival princes for the crown and complicated by endless family feuds. The same system of appanages prevailed also in France, and takes the leading place in the era of factious discontent which supervened on the death of Charles the Wise. Like Lancaster, Gloucester, and York in England, Burgundy, Anjou, and Orleans in France fought for and round the crown, and exploited justifiable dis­content and strivings for reform. In France, as in England, the period of baronial control was dominated by selfish princes and feud-ridden partisans. Monarchy based on feudal ideals was breaking down, and those ideals could not bring to birth a successor to it. Feudalism itself was old.

In no feature of fourteenth-century society is the working of centralising monarchy on feudal institutions and on conditions increasingly non-feudal better seen than in the development of the assemblies known as Estates. They were strictly feudal in origin, for they took their rise in the obli­gations of vassalage; but they soon outgrew the merely feudal conceptions. Already in the thirteenth century, they shew a grouping of men in classes, not in the older feudal hierarchy; in the fourteenth century, the nobles, the ecclesiastics, and the bourgeois of a nation or province form in these assemblies separate “Estates,” divided by their profession, their occupation, from one another. Even in the abnormal “Commons” of England, the alliance of the Knights of the Shire with the Burgesses reposes on the fact that the “Knights” represent the freeholders of the Shire bound together by their common function of raisers of crops and herds and disregarding the feudal tenure which diversified them. Thus the truly medieval society of groups received its latest and widest embodiment. The group covered the kingdom or province; it was based on the essential function of its members; but these groups were still in separate layers; they assumed a feudal class and government; and the measure of their eventual unsuccess was the measure of their mutual lack of harmony, the dissidence of the feudal and non-feudal layers. Save in England their future growth was compromised by the feudal mould in which they grew. True national solidarity and individual allegiance to the State were to find their fitter school in the absolute monarchies of a later day.

If we turn to Germany, the scene seems changed. There the centralised monarchy of the feudal type, we may say, had never arisen. On the contrary, the (to over-state a little) half pre-feudal kingship had collapsed with the Hohenstaufen, and the Golden Bull of Charles IV seems like a raft of gilded wreckage. There the particularist nobles, save in spasmodic efforts of the new College of Electors, made no attempt to control a central government which barely existed. Their efforts, like those of the Free Cities, were bent towards local predominance. But here, too, the feudal spirit showed its inability to construct. The teeming resources of Germany were spent in insensate rivalries and the shifting pursuit of endless, incoherent petty interests. Even in the just-emerging State of Switzerland the common interest and character, which did indeed lead to its creation, are almost hid in the bewildering thicket of the broils of town and country, valley and plain, peasant and noble, burgher and artisan. Chaos indeed might be in labour, but its child, the Swiss nation, was yet unborn.

Perhaps the most striking feature of fourteenth-century Swiss history is that here the peasant class won a permanent victory over the feudal rulers, and it may be that this was because their grievances and aims were more political than economic or social. But all over the West the peasants and their congeners, the workmen of the towns, were seething with like tempestuous desires and struggling to divert the current of social evolution into a new channel. Much might be due to that change for the worse in the general condition of the peasant described in Chapter XXIII, much to the unprecedented phenomenon of manufacturing towns crowded with stinted workfolk. The wasteful horrors of the Hundred Years’ War and the countless feuds, the misery and the opportunities of the recurrent Black Death were subordinate incitements. But something must also be allowed, sporadically if not everywhere, to the power to plan and organise given by the driblets of increasing civilisation that fell to the share of the workfolk. They had their orators, their propagandists, and statesmen even.

The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 in England was the briefest and least recurrent of these efforts; we may guess the grievances were less and already diminishing. The Jacquerie of France in the mid-century was fiercer in its rage at oppression and at the splendid incompetence of chivalry to defend the countryside from the terrible ravage of the Free Companies and the English. It ended, as it began, in despair. It is significant of the distant future that the only remedy which emerged was the national armed monarchy directed by the secret counsels of Charles the Wise. It is also significant that this wild revolt was contemporaneous, and in its immediate causes was allied with the unsuccessful attempt of the bourgeoisie, led by Etienne Marcel, to exert a degree of control over the royal government through the States General. The tide rose, in short, against feudalised, chivalric monarchy and its hide-bound bureaucratic instruments, and was repelled. Something of the same course was visible in the Cabochian movement of 1413; only here the lower bourgeoisie and the mob were predominant, and equally they failed. It was not only coherence and steady cooperation that were lacking, but the experience and daily faculty to direct great affairs.

These French movements, although they hold the centre of the stage, are yet only pale and partial reflexes of the upheaval of the industrial populations of Western Europe in the fourteenth century, to be seen from Germany to Spain. Here, however, only its manifestations in Italy and the Netherlands can be touched upon; they were the most important, and the most European; for these towns were the nerve-centres, the ganglia, of the commercial system of the West. Two fundamental facts give the basis of the history of these trading towns from 1100 to 1350 a.d.: the continuous growth of their population and the like increase of their manufactures, of which the making of the varieties of cloth always formed the staple. From these two causes arose the primitive capitalist, merchant, employer, and banker; the thronging pettier traders, retailers, provisioners, metal-workers, and the like, typical “small masters”; and last, the multitude of wage-earners in the cloth-industry. The general rise of population and the ever-widening, securer commerce of these two- and-a-half centuries, of which the towns furnish the clearest evidence, gave them their opportunity and indeed caused their existence. But the lion’s share of their prosperity went to the earlier strata of the town-population, the first in the field, and already in the thirteenth century the merchant and employer class were forming in Flanders (to give the most wealthy district as an instance) a narrow hereditary oligarchy, oppressive to the “small masters” and retailers, and exploiting without pity the mass of their employees, who were their subjects, their tenants, and almost helplessly dependent on them for a livelihood. Such a state of things could not last. Defeated risings were in the early fourteenth century followed by victorious revolution, of which the “Matins of Bruges” in 1302 may stand as an example. The general result was the erection of the stormy “democratic” government of the metiers or gilds, in which the ancient oligarchs formed but a small opposition, while the employee cloth-workers and the “domestic” trades struggled for the mastery, and the Count of Flanders with his nobles trimmed and tacked and warred to regain their authority. The democratic forces seemed irresistible in the towns, but there were fatal weaknesses in their constitution. First, each section within them fought only for its own hand and its own supremacy: weaver hated fuller, smith, and cordwainer. Only after years of civil strife and revolutions was something like an uneasy, selfish partition of power attained. Secondly, these towns and gilds were at the last resort dependent on “great commerce,” international exchange, which they could not control and did not understand. To their disillusion, the gildsmen derived but little economic benefit from their predominance. The Black Death and its sequels, if they put a stop to the growth of population, and raised wages temporarily, perhaps permanently, also diminished consumption in like measure. The metiers were incurably narrow and egoistic in external as in internal politics and economics. Their one remedy for failing commerce was privilege and rigid protection; the older merchant oligarchies had aimed at freeing and easing exchange; but the metiers blocked it—the retailer or employee was supreme. The towns thus had one another and the countryside for their enemies; they thought only of monopolising their narrow local market. When the new large territorial power of Burgundy succeeded petty principalities, and curbed the rival German Hansa towns, and favoured the new free port of Antwerp where merchants could congregate, the older towns, with diminishing manufactures, engrossed and divided by local interests, were bound to fall into recalcitrant tutelage. The “democratic” regime had ended in failure.

The same motives as those that induced the revolutions in the Netherlands worked also in North Italy, and here the best illustration is found in the great manufacturing and exporting city of Florence, whose very peculiarities make the essential facts more clear. In the first half of the fourteenth century Florence was under the sway of the Greater Arts, i.e. the merchants, manufacturers, and bankers. They admitted the Lesser Arts, i.e. the retailers and small masters, to a subordinate partnership, and this, together with the alliance of the Papacy and the Kings of Naples, perhaps accounts for the later date of the revolutionary movement. But their exploitation of the workmen in the cloth-industry was almost ruthless, as it was in Flanders, and in the latter half of the century the bitter discontent of their victims exploded finally in the revolt of the Ciompi (1378). Brief mob-rule was succeeded by brief predominance of the Lesser Arts allied with the upper stratum of the workfolk. Yet their failure was more rapid than in Flanders. The banking centre of Europe could only be ruled and guided by a ring of the great employing merchant and banking houses, and in 1385 a narrow oligarchy once more took the reins. When their own egoistic divisions caused their fall, it was not democracy but the “Tyranny” of the greatest banking house, the Medici, with the genius to win over and to favour the lesser folk, which, under republican forms, succeeded to the rule of the State.

The control of foreign trade, in short, was the mainspring of the power both of the long-lived oligarchy of Venice, the less disciplined oligarchy of Florence, and the Medicean despotism. Elsewhere in North Italy, the solution of class-warfare and perhaps partially of the economic problem had been found in monarchy, which at least gave order and security. The Italian despots had a distant kinship to the territorial sovereigns of northern Europe; but these were firmer based on a nationalism which could unite classes and provinces in allegiance to the native prince. At the end of the Middle Ages the same sympathies and needs at length united Spain.

Two great and long-continued disasters shook both the political and the economic fabric of the fourteenth century, the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death. Neither of them created or perhaps much deflected the main movements of the time, but they hastened incipient decay and stimulated natural growth. The war found France the most prosperous and the strongest realm in Europe; it left it poor and enfeebled, if ready to revive; feudalism was therein put to the fatal proof which in the long run made absolute monarchy inevitable. That monarchy was all the more national because the long war had acted as a forcing house for the sentiment of nationality already clearly in existence. Again, the war hastened and made more complete the transference of the line of the greatest trade-route eastwards from France to Central Germany: the fairs of Champagne become negligible; Augsburg and Nuremberg, to mention no others, were now main links in the chain from the Mediterranean to the North. This factor cannot be neglected in the revivification of the intellectual life of Germany, and is one among the many causes of the later Reformation.

The effect of the Black Death on Europe was at the same time more suddenly impressive and cataclysmic and more lasting and subtly pervasive than that of the war. Its first progress was like the relentless advance of a prairie fire, destroying and inescapable. Its way had been prepared by the silent unrecorded invasion of the Black Rat, which seems to have entered Europe, perhaps in the wake of the Crusades, in the twelfth century, and if we knew the distribution of the rat in the plague years we might partially account for the “patchy” incidence of the Death. In any case the plague first fastened on the great Crimean grain port of Kaffa in 1346, and thence spread through Constantinople to Sicily, Genoa, and Provence in 1348. Before the year was out it was in England; by 1350 it had traversed Germany and Scandinavia. As was natural, it followed the trade-routes, and the rat-infested ship and barge were more deadly than the march of an army. The immediate mortality was terrible; it may have carried off one-third of the population in the three years of the first visitation. But perhaps more important for the future was its recurrence almost every ten years. Up to 1350 the population of Western Europe seems to have steadily increased. For perhaps a century afterwards a kind of stagnation seems to prevail, and the renewed upward movement hardly begins till after the close of the Middle Ages. The consequence of the first mortality was a violent, if temporary, shock to the existing economic fabric of society, but it did not initiate a new. None the less, in conjunction with its periodical recurrence, this mortality increased permanently the strain on the old order of things, while it staved off for long the modem problem of over-population. Its effect on the mentality of Europe seems somewhat similar. There was the usual debasement which follows great disasters. For a while men were more reckless, less dutiful, more callous; and if the old enthusiasms and devotion survived, we have the impression of a certain lassitude in then pursuit. The shield and the rosary, already too conventional, were tarnished; revival tended to be revolutionary, and revolution to be ineffectual. It is hard to speak with certainty on what is so intangible and obscure, but if the Black Death hastened the decay of the old, it does not seem to have produced, even when it promoted, the new.

Apart from the dubious repercussions of the Black Death, it is an easier task to follow the evolution of medieval ideas in the slow transformation of the fourteenth century, for here men formulated their thoughts in recognisable shape. It is easiest of all when those ideas were expressed in a living institution, the Church and its head, the Papacy. Here again we note the symptoms of the contemporary feudal monarchy displayed. The unity of Christendom in its hierarchical organisation remains the dominant creed, but it seems more of a fetter than a source of energy. Over-centralisation and over-elaboration of control mark the Papacy at Avignon no less than the secular kingships. They bring more abuses than they cure. There is a kind of restlessness in the fixity of the Church’s methods, in the rigidity of its attitude. Talents and zeal produce over-development in government, but neither produce nor are guided by new inspiration. Men revolve in vain in the circle of the past.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the final struggle between the Papacy in “captivity” at Avignon and the Empire, a dull epilogue to that splendid drama. Its material cause was the traditional dread felt by the absentee Papacy for the revival of the corpse-like Empire in Italy; its cause in the realm of ideas was the Popes’ desire to elaborate the doctrine of their “plenitude of power” in the secular affairs of Europe. Boniface VIII, Clement V, and John XXII stretched the papal claims to the full. Yet they were really defeated. Boniface VIII was ruined by Philip the Fair; John XXII could not overthrow so mediocre an antagonist as Lewis the Bavarian. And the claims end by being mere words; they cease to be a practical problem.

More success attended the papal supremacy in things ecclesiastical. The Popes’ absolutism penetrated every cranny of the Church, and John XXII, the so-called “father of annates”, enlarged and enforced the papal prerogative of provision to any benefice. Yet it was a Pyrrhic victory. Even when unresisted, the Popes had to use their providing power largely to gratify the national kings, and when they acted independently they were liable to meet a steady resistance of delays, evasions, and defiance.

A large part of this resistance was due not only to the local or private rights and interests which were over-ridden by the universal Pope, but also to the national feelings and interests which resented the exploitation by a foreign monarch. The Popes and their Curia at Avignon were definitely French. Englishmen and Germans were reluctant to yield revenue and power in their own countries to a foreign and often an enemy Pope. This feeling spurred the English Parliament to pass Acts of Provisors and Praemunire, which gave a legal standing-ground to the King, comparable to the Popes’ Canon Law, and it nerved the German chapters to fight a long and losing battle. The Great Schism is really its outcome. The national feeling of the Italians extorted the election of Pope Urban VI, and it was French nationalism as well as Urban’s tyranny which led to the restoration of the Papacy to Avignon with Clement VII. National and State interests dictated to the kings and rulers their choice between the rival Popes, and even the Council of Constance, inspired by the ideal of the unity of Christendom, could only achieve reconciliation by dividing itself into “Nations” and not treating its members as the single body of the Church. Meantime, as had been foreshadowed by Boniface VIII’s defeat by Philip the Fair, the supernatural prestige of the Papacy had severely suffered. The rival Popes had been mendicants for royal recognition; the seamless robe of Christ had been pitilessly torn in sunder; and the full demoralisation of the ecclesiastical organism had been completed and been brought to light. Yet here, too, as elsewhere, the forces of the ancient regime were still strong enough to beat back heresy, schism, and revolution, whether doctrinal or national; it was the well of life which should rejuvenate themselves that they could not find.

From the idea so strictly embodied in one institution we turn to the more pervasive ideas, spiritual and intellectual, which were woven into medieval culture. It may be maintained that the fourteenth century opened with their defeat or at least their failure, like that of Papacy and Empire. The inspiration of the Friars, along with the strange hopes of an apocalyptic millennium which we see in Dante—themselves a recog­nition of the hopeless odds against success—faded away and found no successors. In like manner the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas proved no final solution of the problem of the world, while the scholastic method and the scholastic theme had hardened into an orthodoxy of field and subject, which heaped subtlety on subtlety, building up and pulling down a stereotyped pack of cards. As with the schoolman’s world, so that of the knight seemed to have reached its limits and made its last discoveries. Chivalry, the sum of the knight’s ideals, had become a code, a badge of good form. Much of its charm and virtue might remain, but narrowly interpreted as the freemasonry of a special class, decked in the fantastic blazonries of its coat-armour, it had become conventional and showy, a “gilded pale” to keep the vulgar out which too frequently hedged round the vulgar within. Its most religious aspect was the crusading vow, and the crusade had become an obsolescent fashion. Men took the cross as a knightly adventure due to their position, a kind of grand tour; and all the statesmanlike efforts of the Popes to organise the defence of Eastern Christendom were failures. The iniquitous suppression of the Templars, themselves completely negligent of the object of their Order, was a revelation of the veering interest of the West. The wars of the Teutonic Order were but an incident in the spread of Germany beyond the Elbe and Vistula. Yet the true spirit, however enfeebled, was not dead, as the ill-supported Hospitallers at Rhodes remained to testify.

Still more static and routine-like was the ethos of the monks and friars, the protagonists of the ascetic ideal. The ancient ardour in both had in general died away, and left respectability at best. No doubt in earlier times corruption or tepidity had always found easy entrance into the cloister, and there had been periods of marked general decadence. But these had been followed by periods of enthusiastic revival, in which a new meaning had been given to the still expanding spirit of asceticism. The last and most original of these revivals had been that of the Friars. Its aftermath had been the devoted missions among the Tartars, as far as China, and elsewhere, which had their “theorist” in Raymond Lull, and their secular counterpart in the travels of the Polos, so incredible and so true. But now that creativeness seemed spent. More especially after the Black Death, which depleted the ranks of the more zealous, a lethargy settled down over convent and monastery. It was not so much corruption, although that was often flagrant and notorious, as sleepy, slack routine, the comfortable exploitation of endowments, which characterised the age. Fewer in numbers, often burdened with debt, aiming at the minimum necessary, the monks lost admiration, and even respect; the friars became self-indulgent catchpennies. No brilliant exceptions, no increase of supervision and goadings from above could excite any lasting flame from these dying embers or recapture the popular veneration of old time.

Yet the fourteenth century is not merely that in which the feudal age moves slowly towards its setting; it is that in which the harbingers appear of the Renaissance and even very dimly of modern times. Sometimes they move vainly to the attack on the reigning system; much more often they undermine its embattled walls, or dig the foundations of a totally different structure, all the while believing they are loyal members of the garrison. Perhaps after all they were, and would have saved it had they been allowed. What in their diverse ways these forerunners did was in one degree or another to cultivate new intellectual territory, to change the outlook on the old, to offer a new approach to life which could replace that which had had its stimulating beauty trampled out by the thronging feet of generations. They were a product of the success of the earlier time. Comparative increase of security and opportunity, exemplified in the universities, had given men more personal freedom and wider experience. Justinian, Gratian, and Aristotle had aroused and trained the critical and observing faculties, scholasticism had refined the reasoning powers, vernacular literature and architecture had strengthened the creative imagination and applied it to the real world of mind and matter men saw before them. And the real world at this critical moment of discovery was, one might say, inevitably “nominalist”. Each personality or phenomenon in it had to be noted separately. The widest classification we can adopt for the pioneers is that of individuality—not yet individualism—in themselves and in what they perceived. They dealt instinctively with each man or thing independently of their group or compartment in the frame of society or the world. It was not Dante’s world-scheme, so typically medieval, but his unsubmergible personality, making him “his own party”, his extraordinary power of observing and creating separate human characters and events, his eye for the particularities of Nature, each object being seen as it exactly was at some special moment, that gave him his originality and made him the founder of modem literature.

An analogy to this is traceable in the new attitude to ancient classic literature which begins to appear in the persons of Petrarch and Boccaccio, the founders of the Italian Renaissance. Equipped with the same social inheritance as Dante in life and in education, with his achievement too before them, they were able to appreciate the classics in a new way, to view them not only as the repositories of wise sayings but as personalities with individual traits and gifts existing in a past environment. The sense of historical perspective, so long lost, began at last to revive. Dante had studied Virgil, not only for tags and learning to be fitted into imitative Latin, but for the refinements of style, for reflection on human life, for insight into Nature and emotion to be emulated in the new language of Italian. So does Petrarch hold personal dialogues with Cicero and strive to realise from their works the dead authors he loved. For him and for Boccaccio was opened a new unhackneyed field of research with new treasures of thought and knowledge to be rifled, a new and sovereign clue to the study of life. Here was a world to conquer, and here the human spirit could kindle once again to a more than youthful ardour. It was no accident, but another aspect of the same revelation which made Petrarch the introspective singer of the Sonnets, piercing through the layers of conventional courtly love to the intricate core of his own heart; and made Boccaccio apply all the graces of his classic diction to the portrayal of men and their manners and the ironic chances of life. A veil seemed to be withdrawn; no longer hid by the doctrines of the schools, disguised by long-regnant platitudes, life spoke to them freshly; for them as for Virgil mentem mortalia tangunt. And this, in terms of painting, is the discovery of Dante’s contemporary, Giotto.

When we look backward, Giotto does indeed begin a new age in the plastic arts, but in his own time he is only the most original and creative representative of a European development. The gradual increase of technical power over their several mediums was the common charac­teristic of the artists of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Their art, unlike the Italians, might, as the Hundred Years’ War continued, be on the way towards the exhaustion of the ideas, religious or chivalric, which were its inspiration, but its aesthetic resources were gaining still. The architect has progressed from the safe and stern solidity of latest romanesque to the daring, high-strung energy and variegated, light-filled strength of full Gothic. The sculptor, and even in some degree the painter, could make supple foliage and drapery, lissom figures, whether animal or human, and dramatic action. The faces lose their stolid glare, and become instinct with emotion; a statue can have an individual character, an instant’s expression, standing out amid its rivals and separate from the world it inhabits and suggests.

It is curious to note the seamy side of this individuality in contemporary warfare. The age of systematic chivalry with its conventions and its breeding, slave of the accolade, is also the age of Free Companies and single adventurers owning no law but personal ambition and profit. Theirs was a barren freedom, but their Italian analogue, the tyrant, was more creative, for in the tyrannies there was evolved the non-class State, where men could count for their personal qualities unconditioned by their status. These premature principalities and the republics which existed beside them found a still more premature philosopher in Marsilio of Padua, in whom sceptical criticism and a direct reading from Italian life under the guidance of Aristotle produced a personal originality which antici­pated the theories and methods of the nineteenth century.

The new tendencies, the new originality were also to be seen, however muffled in the frock and the gown, in the religious life of the time. It is surprising to find amid monastic lethargy and institutional petrifaction that the individual somehow shakes himself free and asserts his inde­pendence. We meet the heyday of the mystics. Whether recluse as in England, evangelistic and propagandist as in Germany, social as in Italy, the keynote of this mystical movement, alike in Eckehart, Tauler, and Groote, Juliana and Richard Rolle, and St Catherine of Siena, was the immediate search of the individual soul for God. It had its forms of aggressive heresy; but it was the obedient revolt from the stereotyped routine of passable salvation which had the greatest future significance. A crowd of deeply religious natures were patently thinking from and for themselves; they coincided with, they did not follow orthodoxy. With Wyclif this individuality entered scholasticism and the discussion of the organisation of the Church. In method and in training Wyclif was a later schoolman, treading the common round. But in his speculation and doctrine he too changed the venue. Christian doctrine had from 1100 to 1300 steadily grown legalised. The iustitia of St Augustine, the condition of salvation, had come to mean loyal and legal membership of the organised universal Church. Now Wyclif interpreted iustitia as ethical righteousness in direct relationship with the will of God; it was this alone which really counted. The singer is once more the man who can sing, not the formally appointed precentor in the legal institution. Thus it was natural that Wyclif should follow Marsilio in denying the validity of the existing government of the Church; natural, too, that he should be the father of the scheme to place the Law of God, by which ethical righteousness was determined, in the hands of the laity by the translation of the Bible into the vulgar tongue.

The individuality, which, with its corollaries of thought, appears in these scattered groups, was the beginning of the evolution towards modern times, but in 1400 it had neither developed clearly nor penetrated very far into society as a whole. The same may be said of the other portents of change, and the fact makes the fourteenth century only the commencement of a transitional age. The soil trembles under the feudal and ecclesiastical edifice; there are fissures and sudden landslides; but the old order still keeps intact and solid, as if it had been built for eternity.