7.7 The Late Middle Ages: A Time of Upheaval

To Europeans in the mid-1300s, the end of the world seemed to have come. First, widespread crop failures brought famine and starvation. Then plague and war ravaged populations. Europe eventually recovered from these disasters. Still, the upheavals of the 1300s and 1400s marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the early modern age.

Illustration of a doctor spreading herbs over a man in bed whose body is covered in boils.

This medieval illustration shows a man dying of the plague. Boils erupting all over the body was a sign that the plague would likely claim more victims because the disease spread through contact.


  • Understand how the Black Death caused social and economic decline.
  • Describe the problems facing the Church in the late Middle Ages and how the Church reacted.
  • Summarize the causes, turning points, and effects of the Hundred Years' War.

Key Terms

  • Black Death
  • epidemic
  • longbow

The Black Death Spreads Across Europe

The Arrival

In the autumn of 1347, a fleet of Genoese trading ships loaded with grain left the Black Sea port of Caffa and set sail for Messina, Sicily. By midvoyage, sailors were falling sick and dying. Soon after the ships tied up at Messina, townspeople, too, began to fall sick and die.

Within months, the disease that Europeans called the Black Death was raging through Italy. By 1348, it had reached Spain and France. From there, it ravaged the rest of Europe. One in three people died—a death rate worse than in any war in history.

A Global Epidemic

The deadly illness was bubonic plague, a disease spread by fleas carried on rats. In the pre-modern world, rats infested ships, towns, and even the homes of the rich and powerful. Bubonic plague had broken out before in Europe, Asia, and North Africa but had subsided. One strain of the disease, though, had survived in Mongolia.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments