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Kingdom of England (11th – 13th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The successor of Edward the Confessor, Harold II managed to defeat Harald III of Norway who claimed the English throne in 1066. However, he was decisively defeated in the Battle of Hastings by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy in the same year.

William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror continued the conquest of England until 1071 when he put down the last resistance. England became deeply influenced by the Norman-French culture. Most of the Saxon estates and titles were given to the Norman noblemen but their holdings were widely scattered. In addition, William the Conqueror forced the landowners to take oath of fidelity directly to him. William further strengthened his authority by the Oath of Salisbury in 1086 which made loyalty to the king superior over loyalty to any subordinate feudal lord. He ordered the registration of all properties issued in a land register called the Domesday Book to improve taxation. In addition to establishment of an efficient financial policy, William the Conqueror also initiated major reforms of the church. He replaced the foreign prelates with Saxon bishops and took over the administration of the churchly affairs provoking the English Investiture Controversy which broke out during the reign of his successor William II “Rufus”.

William II (1087-1100) who was second born son of William the Conqueror succeeded his father as King of England. The eldest son inherited Normandy and the youngest, Henry Beaclere inherited 5000 pounds of silver. The great barons who were dissatisfied with such division rebelled against William II in 1088. William managed to suppress the rebellion of the barons and invaded Normandy when Robert departed on the First Crusade in 1096. However, he became very unpopular in England and came into conflict with nobility and clergy.

William II died in suspicious circumstances on a hunt in the New Forest in 1100. He was succeeded by his youngest brother Henry I (1100-1135) but his brother Robert who returned from the Crusade invaded England to seize the throne in 1101. Robert’s attempt failed and the struggle between the brothers ended with Henry’s invasion in Normandy and imprisonment of Robert in 1106. One year later Henry I settled the investiture controversy with a compromise: Henry I renounced lay investiture in return for guarantee that homage would be paid to the king before consecration. On the death of his only son Prince William, Henry I suggested to be succeeded by his daughter Matilda, Countess of Anjou. His plan was rejected by the English nobility which displeased the idea of a female reign and an eventual Angevin influence in England. Thus Henry’s was succeeded by his nephew, Stephen of Blois (1135-1154) whose rule was marked by a civil war which broke out after the invasion of Matilda in 1139. Stephen was defeated and temporarily deposed in 1141. He managed to regain the throne but Matilda retained the western part of England until her departure in 1148. The threat of a French invasion in Normandy forced both sides to sign a peace agreement in 1153 and to reach a compromise which designated Matilda’s son (the future Henry II) as Stephen’s successor.

King Henry II

King Henry II

Henry II (1154-1189) was the first English King of the Plantagenet-Angevin dynasty. In addition to the English throne, he inherited Normandy, Maine, Touraine, Brittany and Anjou, and greatly extended his territories in France through marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine. Thus Henry II ruled the territory from northern England to the Pyrenees. On his accession to the English throne, he had to deal with the nobles who erected castles without permission and established themselves as independent rulers during Stephen’s reign. Henry II immediately destroyed all illegal castles and brought the nobles under his control, while his military reforms strengthened the English military power. He also reformed the finances and judicial system which introduced the trial by jury. Henry’s attempts to gain jurisdiction over clerical trials provoked a conflict with the Archbishop Thomas Becket which ended with assassination of the latter in Canterbury Cathedral. The assassination made Becket a martyr, while Henry gave up his demand for jurisdiction over the clergy.

Henry’s succession plans provoked a rebellion of his sons in 1173-1174. He managed to crush the rebellion of his sons but he was defeated by his son Richard (the Lionheart) in alliance with his greatest rival, Philip II of France in 1189. Thus Henry II was succeeded by his eldest son Richard I (the Lionheart) who ruled England until 1199 although he spent less than six months in England. Richard I departed on the Third Crusade amost immediately after his coronation. England was more or less successfully governed and also withstood the pressure of King Philip II of France despite his absence. Richard’s brother and successor John I (1199-1216) lost most of the English possessions on the continent. His rule was also marked by the Great Charter (Magna Carta) signed at Runnymede in 1215 which limited the power of English Kings.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms (9th – 12th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms were faced with the Danish invasions at the end of the 8th century. The Danes began to settle in England by the middle of the 9th century, while the Anglo-Saxon kings in northern and eastern England were unable to prevent their permanent settlement. King of Wessex, Alfred the Great (871-900) managed to defeat the Danes in the Battle of Edington in 878. He concluded an agreement on boundaries which divided England into two kingdoms with Alfred ruling the western part and Guthrum ruling the eastern part of England which came to be known as Danelaw.

Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great

Successors of Alfred the Great, Ethelred and Edmund continued his policy and won back the lost territories. Edmund took possession of Northumbria in 927 and became the first king to have direct rule over all England. His successor Edgar (959-975) managed to unify England and was also recognized overlord by the kings of Scotland and Wales. However, the Danish invasions were renewed at the end of the 10th century. Danish king Canute the Great conquered England and crowned himself King of England in 1016. The Saxon royal family lived in exile in Normandy during the period of Danish rule but returned to England in 1042. The sons of Canute the Great turned out to be incapable and the English throne was taken over by Edward the Confessor. He ruled England from 1042 until his death in 1066 but he was unable to assert his authority over the powerful earls and barons. The most powerful was Godwin, Earl of Wessex whose son Harold was chosen King of England after Edward’s death in 1066.

Byzantine Empire (5th – 9th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The establishment of the Byzantine Empire is commonly dated to year 324 when Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great (306-337) moved the imperial capital to Byzantium which came to be known as Constantinople. The Western and Eastern (Byzantine) parts of the Roman Empire were finally divided on the death of Emperor Theodosius I in 395.

Emperor Justinian I

Emperor Justinian I

In contrary to the Western Roman Empire which was destroyed by the barbarian invasions, the Byzantine Empire managed to repulse the invasions of the Visigoths, Huns, Avars, Slavs, Bulgarians and the Persians which marked the reigns of Arcadius (395-408), Theodosius II (408-450), Marcian (450-457), Leo I (457-474), Leo II (474), Zeno (474-745 and 476-491), Anastasius I (491-518) and Justin I (518-527). Justin’s successor Justinian I (527-565) restored the former power of the Byzantine Empire. Ambitions of Justinian I to restore the territory of the former Roman Empire resulted in successful military campaign against the Vandals in Northern Africa in 533-534, recapture of Italy from the Ostrogoths in so-called Gothic War (535-540 and 542-552) and of southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula from the Visigoths in 552.

Justinian I was triumphal in Western Europe but the Byzantine Empire was greatly weakened by the attacks of the Persians on the east and threatened by the invasions of the Slavs, Bulgarians, Huns and Avars on the north at the beginning of the 6th century. Thus the reigns of Justinian’s successors Justin II (565-574) and Tiberius II Constantine (574-582) were marked by the Persian-Byzantine Wars and Slavic invasions in the north, while much of Italy has been captured by the Lombards. Maurice (582-602) transformed the shattered Byzantine Empire into a well-organized medieval state. He restored the Byzantine authority in Western Europe and North Africa by reorganizing the Byzantine dominions into exarchates ruled by the military governors or exarchs.

Maurice was killed in an army rebellion in 602 and the Byzantine throne was assumed by Phocas (602-610) who served as an officer during Maurice’s Balkan campaigns. The Byzantine Empire reached its lowest point during Phocas’ reign and was greatly weakened by the invasions of the Slavs on the north and of the Persians on the east. The Byzantine throne was in very serious situation assumed by Heraclius (610-641) who deposed Phocas and had him killed. Heraclius decisively defeated the Persians in 629 but he neglected the northern frontiers. Slavic peoples settled in the Balkan by year 615, while Heraclius barely managed to defend Constantinople from the Avars. Heraclius’ reign was also marked by increased Hellenization of Byzantine social, political and cultural life as well as by military reorganization of provinces into Themes.

Heraclius was succeeded by his son Constantine III (641) who died only after four months and was succeeded by his younger half-brother Heraclonas (614). However, rumors that he murdered Constantine III resulted in revolt and his deposition. The new Byzantine Emperor became the son of Constantine III, Constans II (641-668) under the regency of the senators. His early reign was characterized by the invasions of the Arabs who captured Egypt, extended their influence in North Africa and seized the islands of Cyprus, Rhodes, Kos and Crete. The Arabs defeated the Byzantine fleet in the naval Battle at Phoinike (off Lycia) in 655 but they were unable to take advantage of the victory because of the inner conflicts. When the Arab threat on the east ceased Constans II launched a campaign against the Slavs in Macedonia and forced them to recognize the Byzantine rule. Afterwards Constans II concentrated on Italy but the Papacy felt strong enough and refused Monothelitism as a compromise between the Eastern and Western Churches. Meanwhile Constans II became very unpopular and he was assassinated in Syracuse in 668.

Constantine IV and his retinue

Constantine IV and his retinue

The army in Sicily proclaimed Mezezius (668-669) the new Byzantine Emperor but the Exarch of Ravenna assassinated the usurper. The Byzantine throne was assumed by Constans’ son Constantine IV (668-685). The reign of Constantine IV was marked by increased Arab pressure and annual Arab attacks on Constantinople but the Byzantines managed to withstand the Arab attacks. The Arabs withdrew and agreed to pay tribute to the Byzantine Empire after decisive defeat in the Battle of Syllaeum in Pamphylia in 678 when the Byzantines used the Greek fire for the first time. Constantine IV launched a military campaign against the Bulgarians immediately after the Battle of Syllaeum but he failed to stop the Bulgarian expansion. Constantine IV was succeeded by his son Justinian II (685-695 and 705-711) who continued military campaigns in the Balkans and renewed the war against the Arabs. His administrative reforms were opposed by the aristocracy and resulted in his deposition in 695. The Byzantine throne was assumed by Leontios (695-698) who was deposed and imprisoned after three years of reign by Tiberios III (698-705). The latter acted as the Byzantine Emperor until 705 when Justinian II returned and restored his power. Justinian’s second reign was characterized by brutal suppression of his opponents which provoked an uprising. Justinian II was captured and executed together with his son from his second marriage with Theodora of Khazaria in 711. Thus the rule of the Heraclian dynasty founded by Emperor Heraclius (610-641) came to an end.

The period following the execution of Justinian II in 711 and the accession of Leo III in 717 was marked by a civil war and rapid switches on the Byzantine throne. The period of instability as well as of the Arab threat ended with the accession of Leo III the Isaurian (711-741) whose reign was also notable for a series of edicts against the worship of images (726-729). Leo’s prohibition of veneration of the icons provoked a long struggle over iconoclasm which reached its height under his son and successor Constantine V (741-775). However, many of his rigid decrees against the use of images in worship were abolished by his son and successor Leo IV (775-780), while his wife Irene that acted as regent to Leo’s 10-year-old son and successor Constantine VI (780-797) restored the veneration of icons. Irene summoned the Council of Nicaea in 787 which formally revived the adoration of images. The circles that strongly opposed to the adoration of images supported Constantine VI who wanted to rule as sole emperor. Irene was banished in 790 but she was recalled two years later and granted the title of empress. Shortly after her return Irene organized a conspiracy, overthrown her son and ruled as sole empress from 797 to 802. Irene’s revival of adoration of images improved the relations with the Papacy but the Byzantine influence in Western Europe began to decline.

Kingdom of Asturias (5th – 9th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Kingdom of Asturias situated north of the Cantabrian Mountains was the only Christian kingdom of the Iberian Peninsula that managed to withstand the Moorish invasion. The Kingdom of Asturias was established by the legendary Pelayo (Pelagius) who defeated the Moorish forces in the Battle of Covadonga in 718. Pelayo’s victory against the Moors in the Battle of Covadonga in 718 is traditionally regarded as the beginning of the Reconquista or the Christian re-conquest of Iberian Peninsula from the Muslim Moors.

Pelayo was succeeded by his son Favila in 739 but he was supposedly killed by a bear on a hunt in the same year. He was succeeded by Alfonso I or Alfonso the Catholic (739-757) who conquered Galicia, Alamanca, Astorga, Leon, part of Navarre and reached Castile by capturing Segovia and Avila. Alfonso’s successors successfully withstood the Moorish attacks, continued the expansion of the Kingdom of Asturias and incorporated the northwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula by about 775.

Kingdom of Asturias

Kingdom of Asturias

The territorial expansion of the Kingdom of Asturias on expense of the Moors continued under Alfonso II (791-842) who reached almost to Lisbon. The reign of Alfonso II was also marked by his recognition as king by Charlemagne and by the Pope which greatly increased the prestige and influence of the Kingdom of Asturias.

First Bulgarian Empire (7th – 9th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Bulgarians (Turkic origin, later slavicized) moved from their homeland in Central Asia and settled at the mouth of the Danube in today’s southern Russia and Bessarabia in the middle of the 7th century. The Bulgarian invasions in the Byzantine territory did not represent any greater threat until they crossed the Danube and permanently settled between the Danube River and the Balkan mountains. The Byzantine Empire was at the time helpless against the Bulgarians who managed to subjugate the Slavic population.

The Bulgarians were slavicized and assimilated with the Slavic population over the next two centuries but they kept their name. They also remained the ruling class and established the First Bulgarian Empire in 682 which was also recognized by the Byzantine Empire. The First Bulgarian Empire developed into a important power in the Balkans during the reign of Khan Asparuh and his successors, especially during the rule of Khan Krum (802-814) and his son Omurtag (814-831). They expanded the frontiers of the Bulgarian Empire to the territory of former Avar state east of the Tisza river and captured Sofia from the Byzantine Empire.

Avar Khaganate (Empire)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Avars were nomadic people from Eurasia who invaded Eastern Europe in the 6th century and settled in the Danube River area in the second half of the 6th century. In alliance with the Lombards they destroyed the Kingdom of the Gepids in 567 and forced the Lombards to move to northern Italy one year later.

Avar Khaganate

Avar Khaganate

The Avars settled in the Pannonian plain and established the Avar Khaganate after the Lombard withdrawal to Italy. The Avar Khaganate also incorporated various Slavic peoples who had an inferior status within the khaganate. However, Avar raids in the Balkans and eastern Alps enabled the Slavic population to settle the region, especially after the fall of Sirmium in 582. Unsuccessful attacks of combined Avar-Slavic forces on Constantinople and Thessaloniki in 617 followed by a failed siege of Constantinople in 626 has severely weakened the Avar domination over the Slavic peoples. The Avars retreated to the Pannonian plain and left most of the Balkans in the hands of the Slavs. The inner conflicts and exterior pressure further weakened the Avar state which was finally destroyed by Charlemagne between 791 and 803.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms or the Heptarchy

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
Heptarchy

Heptarchy

Withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain was followed by invasions of the barbarian peoples (Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians) who occupied about one half of the British Isles by the end of the 6th century. Barbarian invasions resulted in the formation of seven Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms also known as the Heptarchy: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex although there were other political units as well which played more important role than it was previously thought. Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex eventually became predominant over other kingdoms but Wessex subdued Mercia and Northumbria during the reign of Egbert of Wessex (802-839). However, the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms were unable to withstand the Danish invasions which started at the end of the 8th century and resulted in the establishment of Danelaw in today’s northern and eastern England.

Frankish Kingdom (5th – 9th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
Clovis I

Clovis I

The Frankish Kingdom was the strongest and the most powerful of all medieval Germanic kingdoms established on ruins of the Western Roman Empire. The Frankish Kingdom started to rise during the reign of Clovis I (482-511) who conquered the neighboring Frankish tribes, defeated Visigoths with center in Toulouse and Alamanni in 496, and established himself as sole king of all Franks. Clovis’ conversion into Catholicism in 498 by which he gained the support of the Roman population and of the Catholic Church played an important role in the future development of the Frankish Kingdom as well. The territorial expansion in the 5th and first half of the 6th centuries under the Merovingian Dynasty was followed by an inner crisis that was caused by the division of the kingdom into Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy. Clotaire II (613-629) reunited the Frankish Kingdom and was proclaimed the King of all the Franks but further divisions took place after the death of Dagobert I in 639 and resulted in decline of Merovingian power and rise of the mayors of the palace.

Pepin of Herstal, the Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia defeated allied forces of Theuderic III, King of the Franks and Berthar, the Mayor of the Palace of Neustria and Burgundy in the Battle of Tertry in 687 becoming de facto ruler of the Frankish Kingdom. Pepin also subdued the Alemanni, Frisians, Bavarians and Bretons, and captured Aquitaine, while Thuringia managed to renew its independence for a short period. On Pepin’s death his illegitimate son Charles Martel (714-741) seized power in Austrasia. Charles Martel is best known for defeating the Muslim invaders in the Battle of Tours in 732 and stopping the Muslim advance in Western Europe. On the death of Charles Martel his two sons Carloman and Pepin the Short became the Mayors of the Palaces of Neustria and of Austrasia. However, Carloman went into monastery Monte Cassino in 747 leaving Pepin the Short as the sole mayor of the palace.

Pepin the Short deposed the last Merovingian king Childeric III and confined him to a monastery with support of Pope Zachary in 751. Afterwards he had himself elected as King of the Franks by an assembly of Frankish leading-men and was anointed at Soissons. Pepin’s coronation finally ended the Merovingian rule in the Frankish Kingdom and established the Carolingian Dynasty as the new ruling dynasty. The reign of Pepin the Short was also notable for the incorporation of Aquitaine into the Frankish Kingdom, installation of Tassilo III in Bavaria as duke under Frankish overlordship and Frankish victory over the Lombards. Like the Merovingian kings, Pepin the Short divided the Frankish Kingdom among his sons on his death: Carloman and Charlemagne (768-814) but Charlemagne became sole ruler of the Franks after Carloman’s sudden death in 771.

Suebic (Suevic) Kingdom

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Suebic Kingdom was established during the reign of Hermeric after the invasion in today’s Galicia and northern Portugal in 410. Hermeric abdicated in 438 in favor of his son Rechila who conquered Merida in 439 and Seville in 441. Afterwards Suebi turned northwards and captured Ebro valley and Lerida.

Location of the Suebic Kingdom

Location of the Suebic Kingdom

Suebic territorial expansion disturbed the Roman Emperor Avitus who persuaded the Visigoths to attack the Suebic Kingdom. In alliance with the Burgundians and the Franks, the Visigoths defeated the Suebi near Astroga in 456. The Suebic Kingdom was severely weakened by the defeat at Astroga but it retained itself until 585 when it was finally conquered by the Visigoths.

Visigothic Kingdom

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Visigoths under leadership of King Alaric moved to Aquitaine after the sack of Rome in 410 and established a kingdom with center at Toulouse. They settled in Aquitaine as Roman foederati and joined the Roman army against the Huns, helped suppress the peasant’s revolts and joined the war against the Vandals and Alans in the Iberian Peninsula. The Visigoths expanded their influence in southern Gaul and Iberian Peninsula during the reign of Euric (466-484) but the Visigothic Kingdom reached its height during the reign of King Alaric II (485-507) and became an important European power.

Migration of the Visigoths

Migration of the Visigoths

Alaric was defeated and killed by the Franks in the Battle at Vouille in 507. The Visigoths afterwards left Aquitaine and moved south of the Pyrenees where they established a kingdom with the capital in Toledo. The Visigothic Kingdom with center in Toledo managed to survive the period of turmoils, to consolidate and repulse the Byzantine attempts to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. The Byzantine Empire captured the very southern part of the Visigothic Kingdom in 551 but the Hispano-Roman population preferred Visigothic over Byzantine rule. Thus King Liuvigild (568-586) managed to repel the Byzantines from Cordoba as well as to conquer the Suebi Kingdom in 575. The Visigothic Kingdom survived until 711 when the last Visigothic King Roderic was killed in the Battle of Guadalete by the Moorish invaders who conquered the Iberian Peninsula by 718.
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