As the end of the Middle Ages approached, it was clear that Europe was evolving and advancing, but this did not necessarily mean that it brought stability. In fact, it had quite the opposite effect. The major rulers of Europe desired fame and fortune, and were willing to fight ever more expensive wars to gain it. This greatly affected the now growing European Economy, which in turn affected the rich, the poor, and the industrial state of Europe.
The Church as ever had it’s role to play in the stability of both individual countries and Europe as a whole, and with new inventions changing the way that the society functioned as a whole, it was likely that a long period of unrest would be established. It is arguable that Europe was in a more stable position during the Late Middle Ages than is commonly accepted. For example, despite being divided into many individual areas, the Holy Roman Empire had an elected Emperor who had the highest status in Europe, and a German parliament.
Theoretically, this ensured that there was a stable figure at the head which was able to oversee the condition of the entire Empire, along with a parliament that would be able to resolve any issues that arose. Combined with the Princes that ruled over the different areas of the Holy Roman Empire, it is possible to believe that a workable system had been formed. Each area had different needs, and the Princes were in a much better position to decide on what was required for their principality than a single figure potentially based on the other side of the Empire.
The idea that any problems would be eradicated by this system is certainly not the case however, and it will become clear that this was a flawed system with the potential for a great amount of unrest within the Empire. During the late Middle Ages, England, France and Spain were the countries that dominated Western Europe, and Spain was certainly one example of how Europe was in some ways quite stable. By 1479, Spain had been unified as a result of the marriage between Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile ten year earlier.
This was proof that differences between regions could be resolved for the greater good of a country. Even with Castile and the three regions regaining separate domestic governments, it showed a great advance in comparison to the state of many of the other countries in Europe. With the discovery of the New World, Spain was also able to gain quite close relationships with many other areas of Europe through the trade of goods found in their new lands.
With the growth of these relationships, conflicts became less likely between Spain and other countries, which is certainly a sign that a stable position was being formed in Europe. Finally, following the problems caused by the 100 Years War and the War of the Roses (which had led to the end of Feudalism), Henry VIII had centralised the power in England. This was able to put an end to the war with France, and meant that the possibility of a more stable Europe was becoming a possibility. Eastern Europe was also beginning to show signs that stability throughout Europe was a possibility.
The monarchies of Poland-Lithuania, Bohemia and Hungary, which were the three dominating powers in Eastern Europe at the end of the Middle Ages, had ideologies very similar to those found throughout the rest of Europe. Despite their geographical location, they were governed in a similar way to many other areas of Europe and their rulers also shared the ambitions of their Western European counterparts. This reduced the chance of large scale conflicts in ideologies, in turn reducing the likelihood of conflict to resolve these issues, and a generally more stable Europe.
Erasmus, who was an extremely famous writer during the Middle Ages, felt that an advance in classical learning and a reform of the church was necessary, and he wanted to do it peacefully. This was a view that, made possible by the invention of the Printing Press, had begun to spread throughout Europe. This alone had the potential to unite Europe and bring a period of stability to the Continent. If people from many different backgrounds shared a common ideology, it was possible for people to work together to reach this goal, removing previous causes of instability.
With Erasmus’s strong belief in peace and unity spreading, the idea of a Europe where everybody could co-operate resulting in all-round stability was no longer instantly disregarded as impossible, and if it led to the ending of wars and the damage that they caused, many people were certainly willing to listen. Diplomacy was also becoming a major aspect of the Middle Ages, and was something that certainly had the capability of producing large-scale stability throughout Europe.
With religious issues and wide-ranging international relations becoming increasingly important, Ambassadors became extremely important figures in Europe. They aimed to eradicate tension between different countries, and if they succeeded in this then stability would be assured. The final major aspect of Europe in the Middle Ages and it’s stability is the European Economy that was beginning to become apparent. As previously mentioned, the discovery of the New World had the opportunity to create stability between Spain and the other countries of Europe that they traded with.
Many people were keen to experience the new products that were being brought in, and so co-operative international relations were able to grow. Money was being used to trade to a much greater extent, setting up a financial system that would be used until Modern times. Finally, Guilds were becoming an important aspect of the European Economy. They were able to regulate trade, prevent destructive change, and protected trade from being flooded by rural labourers. This was able to create a great deal of stability within individual trades, ultimately creating a certain degree of stability within the Economy.
Despite these potential reasons that suggest Europe may have been relatively stable towards the end of the Middle Ages, there is certainly more evidence that reinforces the idea that Europe was actually in a relatively unstable position. Even though the Holy Roman Empire’s structure had the potential to work well and create a stable country, this was certainly not the case. Despite having the highest status in Europe, the Emperor actually had extremely little power. He did not rule a central government, and could only raise taxes by agreement, and it took a truly dire emergency for that to happen.
The German parliament (the Imperial Diet), was more likely to list its grievances against the Emperor, and even more so the Pope, than to initiate any decisive action. With little decisive leadership it was always likely that there were would be quarrels within the country, pulling the country apart and causing instability not only within the country but also throughout Europe. Leading on from this, Charles V, the next Hapsburg following Maximilian I, came to power in 1519.
This could have had dangerous ramifications for Europe as a whole, and Pope Leo X wanted to prevent this. As Charles was already ruler of Spain and the Netherlands, he had now become the dominant power in Europe. With one person having such a large influence in Europe, the stability of the continent was always going to be at risk. Finally, attempts were made to centralise the power to the Emperor. However, the Princes were not willing to surrender the power and the Holy Roman Empire remained divided.
If centralisation of power had been successful a more stable Europe would have been a possibility, but without this, the existing divides remained and an unstable country and continent resulted. As well as the instability being generated by the Holy Roman Empire, Western Europe was having its own problems, especially between France and Britain. The long wars, including the 100 Years War, were having a damaging effect on both the condition of the individual countries and the long-term relationship between the countries.
With two of Europe’s major countries continually in conflict, the general stability of Europe would always be at risk. Also, as well as the wars with France, England was having its own internal problems. The War of the Roses is one of the most important aspects of English history, and the volatility it caused within the country radiated to the other countries of Europe. Leading on from this, the wars between France and Italy, and Spain and the Holy Roman Empire were always going to be damaging to the stability of Europe.
With so many countries in conflict, international relations were always going to be frayed for many years, and a stable Europe would be a long way away. Eastern Europe was also in an extremely unstable position, and it is becoming clear that the large build up in possible causes of instability were accumulating to create a potentially very unstable Europe. Neither reformation nor monarchies were doing particularly well, and the realms of Poland-Lithuania, Bohemia and Hungary were under great political threat.