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Kingdom of Sicily (11th – 13th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Normans captured Sicily from the Arabs who ruled the island from 902 in the 11th century. The Kingdom of Sicily encompassing the island of Sicily, the whole Mezzogiorno region of southern Italy, and the islands of Malta and Gozo was established by Roger II, Count of Sicily who crowned himself King of Sicily in 1130.

Medieval depiction of Roger II riding a horse

Medieval depiction of Roger II riding a horse

Roger II (1130-1154) spent his early reign struggling for confirmation of his title, defending his kingdom against the foreign invasions and quelling rebellions of his premier vassals Grimoald of Bari, Robert II of Capua, Ranulf II of Alife, Sergius of Naples and others. Roger II managed to consolidate his power by 1140 and later conquered the coast of Africa from Tunis to Tripoli.

Roger II was succeeded by his son William I the Bad (1154-1166) who suppressed the rebellions of the barons. His heir and successor William II (1166-1189) died childless and the Sicilian crown was assumed by his cousin Tancred of Lecce (1189-1194) on his death in 1166. The Sicilian throne was also claimed by Constance of Sicily, Tancred’s aunt and wife of Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI. The latter launched a campaign and deposed Tancred’s infant son and successor William III (1194). Thus the Sicilian crown passed to the Hohenstaufen Dynasty.

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.

Invasions and Conquests in the High Middle Ages

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Viking and Hungarian invasions in Western Europe ceased by the beginning of the High Middle Ages, while the Muslim rule in Sicily and Southern Italy collapsed. However, at the same time Europe saw the invasions of the Normans (descendants of the Vikings who settled in today’s Normandy in northern France in 911), Mongols and Ottomans.

The Norman Conquest of Southern Italy mostly took place during the 11th century, while the Norman Conquest of England began with the invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066. In 1169, the Normans invaded Ireland and at the same time subdued Wales and Scotland and replaced the Anglo-Saxons as the ruling class. Eventually the Normans began to identify themselves as Anglo-Normans but during the Hundred Years’ War they already identified themselves as English. In 1130, after capturing Sicily and Southern Italy from the Saracens Roger II of Sicily established the Kingdom of Sicily which besides Sicily encompassed the whole Mezzogiorno region of Southern Italy and until 1530 the islands of Malta and Gozo. However, the Normans held Kingdom of Sicily only until 1194 when it passed to the Hohenstaufens through marriage.

The Mongol Invasion in the early 13th century had the greatest impact on Eastern Europe where Kievan Rus was at the time at its height. The Mongol forces decisively defeated the Kievan army in the Battle at Kalka River in 1223 and invaded the Kievan Rus in 1237-40 which afterwards ceased to exist. The Mongol Invasions also greatly affected Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Serbia. However, the Mongol Invasions in the mentioned countries ceased after year 1241 when Batu Khan returned to the Mongolian Empire because of the death of the Great Khan, Ogedei Khan despite being victorious against King Bela IV of Hungary in the Battle of Mohi.

The expansion of the Ottomans who were a major threat to the weakened Byzantine Empire started at end of the High Middle Ages. The founder of the Ottoman Dynasty, Osman I extended the Ottoman territory to the Byzantine frontiers and captured the Byzantine city Bilecik in 1299. The city of Bilecik was the first of many Byzantine cities and villages captured by the Ottomans in the Late Middle Ages and marked the beginning of the rise of the Ottoman Empire which extended its power over the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The period of the High Middle Ages also saw the first European conquests and expansion out of Europe. The Crusades resulted in the establishment of the Crusader states in Syria and Palestine, while the Vikings settled in Iceland, Greenland and even reached North America.

Medieval Sieges

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Medieval warfare is best known for direct armed confrontations but siege warfare played a major role as well. Holding strategically important castles and fortresses granted control over the territory. All medieval castles, fortresses and cities had massive defensive walls and their own garrisons, stationed troops which defended the castle, fortress or a city in case of an attack. Thus it was a lot easier to defend a castle, fortress or city until the invention of gunpowder-based weapons.

The first medieval castles built by the Normans were generally motte-and-bailey, a wooden or stone structure on the top of a raised earth mound or small (usually artificial) hill. Castles eventually evolved into more complex constructions with an array of defensive features such as the enciente (a fortified enclosure of castle’s precincts) and surrounding ditch that was sometimes filled with water and had removable or turning bridge leading to the gatehouse. Defensive features of medieval castles often included the outer fortifications to stop the enemy before reaching the main castle. If enemy succeeded to crush the defense of outer fortifications the castle was defended from the keep. Sieges were often laid to the medieval cities as well. For that reason all larger medieval cities featured massive city walls as well as citadels, forts and castles.

Medieval sieges usually lasted for months. The besieging armies tried to break in the castle, fortress or a city over or beneath its surrounding walls, or by breaching the walls with different siege machines and weapons. However, medieval castles, fortresses and cities were most often captured by negotiations, bribery or by cutting off the food supply to starve out their holders and force them to surrender.

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