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The Late Middle Ages

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Joan of Arc at the Siege of Orleans by Jules Eugène Lenepveu, painted 1886–1890
Pretty much the entire Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, though in southern Europe this overlaps with The Renaissance. This is the period where chivalry, aristocrats, and feudal levies (basically serfs drafted to fight) are becoming less important in war (replaced with mercenaries, longbowmen, and later on, gunpowder and cannons), and Macchiavellian nobles are killing off kings, queens, peasants, and each other with gusto (especially if they happen to be relatives), with recurrences of the Great Famine of 1315–1317 and The Plague generally finishing off any survivors. This is the age of the Dance of Death, The Hundred Years War, the Wars of the Roses, The Spanish Inquisition, the early witchcraft trials, and the vivid, and sometimes surreal paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. The printing press made it easier to spread ideas and learning and Europeans developed new trading routes (Christopher Columbus to the Americas and Vasco da Gama to Africa and India) which boosted European wealth and enabled new sources of resources. Even after all the famine and plague deaths, urban areas grew in importance as places for scholarship, trading and government. By 1500, cities like Venice, Paris and Constantinople each had 100,000+ people.

It just got as dark and edgy as Dark Age Europe again. Still, a common feature of fiction will be an idealistic character who looks forward to a day when society has left all this medieval darkness behind. (This character often gets killed.) We can blame most of these attitudes on the Renaissance, and even more on the Enlightenment when the whole "people who came before us were really stupid" thing really started up.

The typical clothing will include ornate hats, often of disturbingly complicated structure, and surprisingly low necklines among the women; among the men, yards and yards of cloth in the sleeves and disturbingly high hemlines (Women's hemlines won't rise up until several centuries later). Both generously include lots of fur and velvet, at least among the nobility — and lots of dirt, at least among the peasants. Splotches of blood are a not infrequent addition for both.

Outside certain aspects of the Renaissance, this is generally not regarded as a happy time — and even that period tends to be darkened by poisoning Popes, manipulating, scheming courtesans, and murderous feuds among the noble clans.

Tropes associated with this time period include:

  • The Black Death: The Trope Namer of The Plague was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, with its most violent occurence happening between 1346 and 1353 (as much as half of the European population died of it). That's where The Grim Reaper and Danses Macabres originated in European arts.
  • BFS: The first proper two-handed swords started appearing in Europe during this era, beginning in 1250-1300 with smaller longswords and culminating in the 16th Century zweihänder (in Germany) and spadone (in Italy).
  • Corrupt Church: The Spanish Inquisition is often portrayed as this, even though it was controlled by the Spanish Crown.
  • Decadent Court: The reason ladies of dubious virtue like Agnes Sorel, Elizabeth Shore, and Vannozza Catanei became powers in the state.
  • The Dung Ages
  • End of an Era: The final years of the Late Middle Ages were about the end of the feudal system and the beginning of early modern Europe after the Black Plague and the transition to a more sophisticated model of governance.
  • Feuding Families: For instance, the feuds between the Percys and the Nevilles, and York and Lancaster, which form much of the background of William Shakespeare's historical plays.
  • Form-Fitting Wardrobe: The concept of tailoring and fitting started in this era, aided by the invention of functional buttons in 13th-century Germany.
  • Guns and Gunplay Tropes: Cannons and early firearms first made their way to Europe via the trade routes from China in the 13th and 14th centuries. This spurred the development of plate armor to protect knights from guns.
  • Historical Domain Character: Of course. Richard III of England, Charles the Bold and Louis XI of France are favorites in fictions set during this time.
  • Joker Jury/Trial of the Mystical Jury: Both The Spanish Inquisition and the Vehmgericht vacillate between these two tropes.
  • Medieval Morons: Often this occurs in the form of a proto-Renaissance inventor or philosopher being branded as a "heretic" or (less often than people think) "witch" by the corrupt aristocrats and/or superstitious, close-minded mobs.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: One of the most popular (both back then and as a stock costume now) was a dress with tight sleeves, a v-neckline, and trimming of an extravagant fabric (usually fur or velvet) on the cuffs, hem, and neckline.
  • Plot-Triggering Death/Wham Episode: One of the biggest in European history: the battlefield death of Charles the Bold of Burgundy permanently changed the geopolitics of Western Europe. At the time, Charles controlled territory in the Low Countries and France that acted as a buffer between France and the Holy Roman Empire. When he died, it was split between the two and informed much of the conflict between France and Germany for the next few centuries. England was also deprived of its only ally in France, meaning a restart of the Hundred Years War was no longer possible.

Works set in this time period are:

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    Films — Live-Action 


    Live-Action TV 


    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed:
  • Europa Universalis games typically begin in this timeframe. Crusader Kings ends in it.
  • Medieval: Total War and its remake deal with this period (as well as the rest of the Middle Ages). The late period is characterized by combat with heavily armored units, but also with gunpowder and early cannons - and prompts some factions to begin thinking of crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Some campaigns of Age of Empires II; the "Imperial Age" of in-game development (featuring lots of plate armor and gunpowder weapons, plus a campaign based on Cortés' conquest of Mexico) corresponds to this era.
  • A Plague Tale: Innocence is set in the early stages of the Hundred Years War in France amidst the rapid spread of the Black Plague and the Catholic Inquisition clamping down on anyone they deem to be heretics.

    Western Animation