Beginning the of the Medieval Period (Years 450 to 800)
The Medieval period is often seen by people as an era of backwardness, as well as sometimes being ignored or skipped-over because people can think that the events of this period were just minor stepping-stones from the classical era to modern times.
Countless events of significance took place during these so-called “Middle Ages”, which is another name for the Medieval period, but both are referring to the period of around 1,000 years of human history and life in Europe and to a lesser extent, the rest of the world. So, if you think that the middle ages are something to be ignored, think again. Many modern-day countries were shaped during this period, as well as the formation of the political systems we know today, and the scientific and technological advances that formed the basis for our lives today, from our smartphones to our cars and computers.
The first significant event that can be pointed at during this period is the fall of the Roman Empire, which was the largest empire seen up to that point in history, the fall of which is dated officially as being in AD 476. Historians to this day still debate about why the empire collapse, but it is likely to be due to multiple reasons including the unwillingness of its citizens to take part in civic duties
The fall of the Roman Empire is also followed by a period known as the Dark Ages. This period saw huge migration of people to new areas of Europe, as well as the formation of new states and countries in northern Europe. The reason it is called the “Dark Ages” is that a significant amount of literature and knowledge was lost, and there are also much fewer written sources available from the time compared to when the Roman Empire was in full swing.
This period also saw the rise and migration of the Anglo-Saxons, with England being under Anglo-Saxon control by late in the 6th century. With them came the spread of the feudal system throughout England, and the dangerous and often difficult style of living during this period is probably one of the most popular images that people think of when thinking of the Medieval period.
The remainder of this period saw conflict between England and France, the further establishing of the Holy Roman Empire, with Emperor Charlemagne being one of the most notable names from this time. The impact of Charlemagne included the birth of France and Germany, the concept of Europe, the medieval trading system, and the rise and spread of Christianity.
Middle Ages and the Formation of Europe (800-1100)
Charlemagne’s successor was Louis I, who led various conquests, and was sole ruler of the Franks from the year 814. He appointed members of the church into his government, as well as implementing an important method of succession from this period onwards, known as the Ordinatio Imperii. 829 to 840 saw 3 uprisings resulting from feuds between Loui’s appointed successors, and the empire was split into 3 parts, between Lothair I, Louis II, and Charles the Bald. This was known as the Treaty of Verdun, which was a rough blueprint for what are today known as France and Germany.
This period also saw the Vikings (these are famous Danish warriors renowned for their strength and brutality) put England under threat. The Vikings had control of northern England; it was King Alfred the Great that led a swift and successful defence against this threat. Initially he relied on bribes and diplomacy to hold them off, but his reorganisation of the military is what led to eventual success in beating off the Vikings. The Viking age is agreed on by historians as lasting around 150 years
Alfred the Great also undertook a serious renovation of England’s navy during this period, with 897 being the year he began to experiment with naval warfare. This is arguably the early beginning of what went on to become England’s naval might recognised across the globe, in Europe and beyond.
The Islamic expansion outwards, and westwards, also took place during this period. These are known as the Muslim conquests, reaching as far as France and Italy, as well as expanding into eastern territories as far as India.
Between the years of 700 and 1100, there was a significant rise in the practice of piracy as well as the trading of slaves. The slave trade took place between the East and the West, though slavery became illegal in Northern Europe as the middle ages went on, being made illegal in England and Ireland in 1102.
One of the most important and well-known occurrences during this period was known as the Battle of Hastings, taking place in 1066, and leading to William of Normandy claiming the crown of England. The Norman conquest led to the “Normanisation” of England, which included the rise of medieval castle structures.
The Infamous Crusades (1100-1200)
This period is one of the most famous in Medieval history, and involved an incredible display of battling, and the spread of religion by the sword. One of the reasons given for the crusades is to retake Jerusalem, which had fallen under the Islamic expansion. The crusades of Christianity are often seen as a direct response to Muslim expansion into the west and led to the inflation of Christianity and its status as religion.
This period witnessed a total of 8 major crusade expeditions between 1096 and 1291. The first took -place after Pope Urban II requested western troops to aid in the retaking of lost ground from the Muslim (Turkish) empire. The Pope’s request for military might was successful, and with this new military power, the first crusade was launched, leading to the recapturing of Jerusalem in 1099.
The following crusades saw a jostling between the Islamic and Christian religious forces, with the 2nd crusade being a victory for the Islamic empire. The 4th crusade saw the fall of Constantinople, and the remaining crusades in the 13th century included the “Children’s Crusade”. Crusading had all but ended in 1291, with only minor crusades taking place after this.
The Crusades effectively saw the Europeans lose ground, however they did lead to the expansion of Christianity, with the Roman Catholic church seeing tremendous gains in wealth, as well as the power of the Pope being elevated significantly. More positive impacts of the crusades include an increased interest in migration and learning/education in Europe, which is argued by some historians as being the early beginnings of the Renaissance period.
The High Middle Ages (1200-1400)
This period of the middle ages saw several significant events occur between England and France, including the death of Richard I, the ascension of King John as his successor and the loss of French territories to Arthur. The establishment of the “Magna Carta” also decreed that monarchs were forced to acknowledge that their power over their territories was not complete and absolute, and that even monarchs (rulers) were governed by the law of the land.
Henry III also reigned during this period, seeing a period of civil unrest and war, including the Battle of Evesham, the rise of Edward I, his battles with the Welsh. Edward I’s legacy is his attempt to form a form of government more solid than that decreed by the Magna Carta.
The high middle ages also saw the huge influence of Monastic Orders – religious communities with their own exclusive practices and beliefs, each following their own version of Christianity. Merchants were also increasing their influence during this time, combining their efforts to establish trade dominance and increase their wealth. This led to the establishing of trade routes that reached through Europe and far beyond. One of the most famous of these traders was Marco Polo (1254-1324), a Venetian merchant credited with the introduction of Europeans to the culture and trade within the far east.
One of the great tragedies of the middle ages was the rise of The Black Death, otherwise known as the Plague. Between 1346 to 1353, this disease spread throughout Europe. This period was long before the discovery of the germ theory of disease, and therefore most efforts to stop its spread were unsuccessful. As a result, historians estimate that the plague killed at least 75 million people, but the real figures could be as much as 200 million people – this is between 30% and 60% of the entire population of Europe!
The End of the Medieval Period (1400-1492)
Although England and France had already had a history marred with conflict and battle for power, this period is also famous for the so-called 100-years war between the two countries. Though the two countries had battled for territory before, this war was the first indication of continued conflict between the two countries over a very long period of time, leading to nationalistic tendencies in the two countries that were previously not expressed.
This war was comprised of many smaller battles and invasions including the Edwardian War, the Caroline War, The Lancastrian War, and the French recovery after the rise to prominence of Joan of Arc. The eventual consequence of the 100-years war? The final establishment of England and France as 2 separate countries with two separate rules, which was ironically the outcome that Edward III had been attempting to avoid in the first place!
Though there isn’t an official end date that bookends the Medieval or Middle-ages period, it is best to think of the end of this period being intertwined with the rise of the Renaissance in Europe. The renaissance is arguably one of the most important periods of human history in its entirety. This is due to the substantial cultural changes that arose from new ways of thinking, new methods of learning, and the eventual rise of intellectual thinkers and philosophers.
The renaissance (which is French for “rebirth”) began in Tuscany, Italy, but spread throughout Europe as new ideas on culture spread, bringing with it waves of new art and literature, a renewed interest in the ancient and classical world. There were several significant figures that were highly influential during the renaissance. Lorenzo de’Medici is often said to be the father of the renaissance, a wealthy man who was a patron of the arts as well as being one of the most renowned artists of the period. The most famous of figures from this period is probably Leonardo da Vinci, who worked as an artist, a writer, and inventor – the Mona Lisa is his most famous work, but he is also credited with drawing up plans for several “flying machines”, arguably conceiving of one of the world’s first helicopter designs.
The period can be rounded off quite nicely with the so-called “Age of Discovery”, which saw many Europeans engaging in trade and exploration. The most famous of these discoverers was Christopher Columbus, whose discovery of the “New World” came as a result of attempting to find a quicker and more direct trade route to India and the east. He managed to do so by discovering the route across the Atlantic Ocean, discovering what we now know as America in the process.