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The end of the Middle Ages

Reading time: 14 minutes

Nehru’s 72nd letter to his daughter in “Glimpses of world history”

Letter date: July 1, 1932

“Now let’s take another look at thirteenth- and fifteenth-century Europe. Everywhere there is a great deal of confusion and violence and conflict and discord. The situation in India was very bad at that time, but it can almost be said that it is in peace and tranquility compared to Europe at that time.

The Mongols brought gunpowder to Europe, and since then firearms have been used in wars. The kings of Europe used these weapons and with their help they defeated the forces of the disobedient feudal aristocracy. For this purpose, they also benefited from the help of the new merchant classes who lived in the cities.

Feudal lords usually kept soldiers and warriors around them at their own expense. This would weaken them, but it would also hurt the people of the villages and hamlets. When the power of the kings increased, these small war forces were destroyed. In some places, several civil wars occurred between two rival aristocratic families, both claiming the throne and the monarchy. A war broke out in England between the “York” family and “Lancaster”. Both of them select a rose as their flag symbol and official symbol, one of them was white and the other was red. That is why these British civil wars have been known as the “Rose Wars”.

Many feudal lords were killed in these civil wars. The Crusades also killed and annihilated some of them. Gradually, the feudal lords gradually came under their control and their power diminished, but this did not mean that power was transferred from the aristocracy to the people, but that it was the kings who gained more power. The people remained as the same as the past, the situation of people relatively improved only because private wars between feudal lords became less frequent. But the kings’ power increased day by day, and finally they became like an opinionated people whose power was limited by nothing. The struggle between the king and the merchant classes with the middle classes and the bourgeoisie did not exist yet and happened later.

What was even more horrifying than all these wars and killings was the contagious and deadly plague that spread around Europe in 1969. The plague swept across Europe, from Russia and Asia Minor to England, even to Egypt, North Africa and Central Asia, and then spread to the West. The plague was called the “Black Death” and killed millions of people. Nearly one-third of British people die from this disease. In China and elsewhere, the slaughter of this plague was astonishing. Surprisingly, this huge and global disease did not spread to India.

This terrible catastrophe greatly reduced the population, so that often it was not enough to cultivate the land. Due to the small number of peasants and workers, the wages of the workers increased by a very small amount. But large landowners and landowners who infiltrated parliaments created laws that forced people to work with the same low wages as before and don’t ask for more wages as a result, the poor peasants, who were subjected to coercive exploitation in addition to tolerating violence, revolted.

In all of Western Europe, such peasant uprisings took place one after another. In France, in 1979, a great and so-called French insurgency “Jacqueline” and a horrific massacre took place. In England, a revolt led by Wat Tyler began, and Tyler was eventually arrested and killed in 2002 in front of England King. These riots were often extinguished with great cruelty. But little by little, new ideas about equality were being spread.

Wat Tyler

People ask themselves, while others are rich and all have a lot, why should they be poor and hungry? Why should some be masters and nobles and others be slaves? Why should some people wear elegant clothes and others not even wear anything to cover their naked bodies?

Gradually, the old ideas of obedience and submission to power, which the feudal system basically relied on it, were shaken and shattered. That’s why the peasants revolted over and over again. However, because they were so weak and did not have well-equipped organizations, their revolt broke out in such a way that they revolted and revolted again after a while.

Britain and France were almost always in war with each other at that time. From the early fourteenth to the middle of the fifteenth century, wars were known among them as the “Hundred Years’ War.” In eastern France, there was a “Burgundy” government. This government was a powerful state that was obediently subordinate to the king. But Burgundy was interested in rebellion and riots, and revoked the English incitement of this power and other surrounding governments against France; so that France had been under pressure and threats from all sides for some time. Much of western France was under British rule for a long time, and the king of England called himself the king of France.

At a time when France was going through the most difficult times and was suffering from misery on all sides, and it seemed that there was no hope for her salvation, hope and salvation and victory were found by a young peasant girl named “Jeanne d’Arc”.

Of course, you know something about “Jeanne d’Arc” or “Miss Orleans”. For all of you girls, she is a hero. He gave hope and confidence to the desperate people of his country and inspired them to make great sacrifices. The French, under his leadership, drove the British out of their country, but in return of all this effort and service, they were tried by the Inquisition services, and then, like the other convicts, they tied him to a stick and burned.

The British arrested “Jeanne d’Arc” and forced the church to sentence him to death, and in 1430 he was burned in a large square in Rouen city. Years later, the Church of Rome decided to repeal and annul the decree issued against her, and a few years later even gave her the title of “holy” and placed him in the ranks of the saints!

“Jeanne d’Arc” talks about France and saving the “homeland” from foreigners. This way of speaking was new. At that time, people were still so full of feudal ideas that they could not pay attention to patriotic and nationalist ideas. That’s why the words that Jeanne d’Arc said surprised them, and no one understood them. In this way, we see that patriotic and nationalist sentiments began in the time of Jeanne d’Arc and from France weakly.

After the King of France expulsed the British from his country, he realized “Burgundy” government had caused him so much trouble. Eventually, this powerful and rebellious function came under the control of France King, and around 1483 the land of Burgundy became part of French territory. After that, the King of France become a powerful and great king who had destroyed all his feudal lords or made them his full citizens.

With the accession of Burgundy to France, France and Germany became neighbors and confronted each other and found common borders. But while France was a powerful monarchy and had a strong central government, Germany was a weak country divided into several small states.

England was also trying to subdue Scotland, which was in the north of the British Isles. This struggle was continuous and long. Scotland often fought in favor of France and against Britain. In 1314, the Scots under the command of “Robert the Bruce” defeated the British at “Bannockburn”.

Even some time ago, in the twelfth century, the British began their quest to conquer Ireland. The incidents took place seven hundred years ago, and there have been numerous riots, killings and horrific operations in Ireland since then. This country has refused to surrender to foreign domination, and generations have revolted and have repeatedly stated that they do not want to surrender.

In the 13th century, another small nation in Europe, Switzerland, provided the right of freedom for themselves. Switzerland was part of the Holy Empire and was ruled by Austria. You must have read the interesting story of William Tell and his son. This story may not be true. But what’s even more interesting about this is the uprising of the Swiss peasantry against the great empire, which refused to surrender and their domination. At first, three Swiss cantons revolted and in 1291 called themselves the “Eternal and Sustainable Society.” Later, other cantons joined them, and in 1499 Switzerland became an independent republic. The republic was a union of different cantons and was called the “Swiss Confederacy”.

William Tell

Do you remember that on the first night of August we saw flaming fires on top of many Swiss mountains? That day is Switzerland’s national day, and every year on that day they commemorate the beginning of their revolution, and those fires are a reminder of the fires that lit up the mountains and were a sign of the beginning of the uprising against the Austrian rulers.

Now let’s see what was happening in Eastern Europe and in Constantinople at that time.

You remember that the Latin Crusaders captured the city from the Greek Christians during the Crusades in 1204. In 1261, the Greeks expelled the Latin Christians and re-established the Eastern Empire. But another and greater danger was found and threatened them. As the Mongols advanced on Asia, 50,000 Ottoman Turks fled. These Turks were different from the Seljuk Turks, who considered themselves the descendants of a great ancestor who was the founder of the dynasty and his family and was called “Osman”. For this reason, these Turks were called Ottomans. These Turks were supported by the Seljuk Turks in West Asia. As the Seljuk Turks weakened, the power of the Ottoman Turks increased and they expanded to dominate all of Asia Minor.

After conquering Asia Minor, the Ottoman Turks, instead of invading the city and government of Constantinople, like others, went to Europe in 1974 and quickly occupied Bulgaria and Serbia, making the city of “Adrianople” their capital. Thus the Ottoman Empire spread to both sides of Constantinople in Asia and Europe and surrounded Constantinople, but the city remained outside its territory.

At that time, the glorious and thousand-year-old empire of Eastern Rome was confined to this city, and practically exceeded no more of it. Although the Turks quickly swallowed up the lands of the Eastern Empire, apparently the Ottoman sultan had friendly relations with the emperor of Constantinople, and married each other’s families. Eventually, in 1453, Constantinople fell to the Turks, and since then the Ottoman Turks have dominated Turkey and West Asia, and other Seljuk Turks have left the scene of history.

The fall of Constantinople, however it was expected from long ago, was a major event that shook Europe. This fall marked the end of the millennial era of the Eastern Greek Empire. Also it was considered as a second Muslim invasion to Europe, because the Turks then expanded into Europe and sometimes seemed to want to subjugate all of Europe, but were defeated and stopped at the gates of Vienna.

The Great Church of St. Sophia, built in the sixth century by Emperor “Justinian” in Constantinople, became a mosque called “Hagia Sophia” and looted some of its treasures. Europe was thrilled by the incident, but could do nothing. The fact is that the Turkish sultans treated with a great tolerance against the followers of the Greek Orthodox Church, and after conquering Constantinople by Sultan Muhammad II (the Conqueror), he practically declared his support for the Greek Orthodox Church. One of the Ottoman sultans, who later became known as Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, considered himself a representative of the Eastern Roman emperors and called himself Caesar. In fact, the influence of ancient traditions is enormous, and it remains so for a long time, so that the Ottoman Turkic Sultan also called himself by the old title of Rome “Kaiser”.

It seems that the Greeks of Constantinople were not very dissatisfied with the arrival of the Ottoman Turks. Because they saw that the old empire was disappearing. Overall, they preferred Muslim Turks to Western popes and Christians. The bitter experience of the arrival of the Latin Crusaders and the followers of the Popes of Rome had a profound effect on them. It is said that during the siege and war of Constantinople in 1453, a Byzantine nobleman said, “The turban of the Prophet is much better than the holy hat of the pope.”

Mehmed the Conqueror (Mehmed II)

Similarly, in Egypt, an army of “Mamelukes” was formed, which was in fact equivalent to the Ottoman heirs. They gained great power in Egypt and gradually established the government of the Ottoman sultans over Egypt.

Apparently, after the conquest of Constantinople, the Ottoman sultans inherited many ugly habits of luxury and corruption from their predecessors, the Byzantine emperors. Gradually, all the degenerate methods of the Byzantine Empire gradually engulfed the Ottoman sultans and seldom weakened them. However, they were strong for some time, and European Christians were terrified of them.

The Turks also occupied Egypt and took the title of caliph from the remaining Abbasid names, which still bore that name. From then on, the Ottoman sultans also called themselves caliphs, until a few years before Mustafa Kemal Pasha in Turkey abolished both the monarchy and the caliphate and put an end to these titles.

The year 1453, the year of the fall of Constantinople, is of great importance in history and is considered a great date. Therefore, this year marked the end of a period of history and the beginning of a new era.

By this year Middle Ages end. The age of darkness is coming to an end. In Europe, speed, movement, strength, and new life are emerging. This time is called the beginning of the “Renaissance” or the revival of knowledge and science and art. It seems that people wake up from a deep millennial sleep and look back and be inspired by the centuries-old ancient Greece and the days of their glory.

Almost an intellectual revolt begins against the dark and degrading views of life that were preached and propagated by the church, and against the chains that enslaved and oppressed the human soul. Ancient Greek love reappears beautifully, and Europe creates fresh blossoms of beautiful paintings, sculptures, and architecture.

Obviously, all of this did not happen suddenly and immediately after the fall of Constantinople. Such an idea is by no means correct. However, the capture of the city by the Turks accelerated these changes to some extent, as many scientists and scholars who lived there left Constantinople and went to Western Europe as a result of the fall of Constantinople. They brought with them treasures of ancient Greek literature to Italy, at a time when Western Europe seemed ready to accept and welcome such things. For this reason, the fall of Constantinople contributed little to the Renaissance.

But that alone could not be the reason for the big changes that have taken place. Ancient Greek thought and literature were nothing new in Italy or medieval Western Europe. These things were taught in universities, and scientists of the time were familiar with these ideas. However, the scope of this acquaintance and information was limited, and in addition, it was not compatible with the conventional and common thoughts about life at that time, and it did not fit in, and therefore did not find much publication. Gradually because of the skepticism in people’s minds, there was a good opportunity to find new ideas about life. People were dissatisfied with the situation and were looking for things that could please them. At a time when they were in doubt, waiting and searching, their thoughts turned to the non-religious philosophy of the ancient Greeks, which was like a new discovery to them, and they drank Greek literature like a refreshing wine. In their view, philosophy and literature were what they were looking for, and this discovery filled them with enthusiasm.

The Renaissance first began in Italy and then in France, England, and other places. The Renaissance was not just a simple return to Greek thought and literature and their rediscovery, but something much bigger and more expansive. The Renaissance was a foreign manifestation of the invisible currents that had long been beneath Europe’s face. “These currents, which have undergone new developments, have manifested themselves in a variety of ways, and the Renaissance has been one of their manifestations.”

Source: Glimpses of World History, by Jawaharlal Nehru, translated by Mahmoud Tafazoli, Amirkabir Publications, Volume One.

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