For much of the Medieval or Gothic period, a large part of Europe was at war or in an unsettled state. The feudal system limited the ability of most of the population to own any furniture other than the basic necessities, and most craftsmen were only employed by powerful churches or nobles. In 1215 the Magna Carta was signed and became a basis for an English Parliament and system of law which gradually developed to support a growing merchant class. During the 1350s the Black Death led to serious depopulation, which indirectly brought about the end of the feudal system. It was not until 1485, when the Wars of the Roses were brought to an end by a victorious Henry Tudor, that a firm monarchy could be established and bring peace and prosperity to England.
Owing to these difficult conditions, few items of furniture were needed and those that were available were made to be portable or collapsible. Scanty furniture contrasted with the prestige of textiles, hangings, gold and silver plate and carpets, which were portable as well as useful and luxurious.
In the history of furniture, the architectural shell has always had a great influence on design. Gothic architectural forms are overriding in any discussion of medieval furnishings or designs. The Gothic style was all pervasive over much of Europe, and is evident in all furniture forms in most countries. However, the beginning of a Renaissance in Italy in the early fifteenth century changed forever the way furniture was made, decorated and used.
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