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Kingdom of England (13th – 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

John’s attempt to evade the provisions of the Great Charter resulted in a civil war known as the First Barons’ War (1215-1217) which ended with accession of his minor son Henry III (1216-1272) to the English throne. He reissued the Great Charter but the need of additional financial sources forced him to accept the Provisions of Oxford which greatly limited the monarchical power in 1258. Henry later renounced the Provisions of Oxford and provoked a civil war known as the Second Barons’ War (1264-1267). The royal forces were defeated by the baronial forces led by Simon de Montfort in the Battle of Lewes in 1264, while Henry III and his heir to the throne Prince Edward were taken captive. De Montfort became de factoruler of England and summoned the first directly-elected parliament in Medieval Europe. However, he was killed in the battle against Prince Edward one year later. Simon’s followers continued the struggle until 1267 when King Henry III restored his authority.

A portrait of Henry III of England by unknown artist, 17th century

Henry III

Henry III was succeeded by his son Edward I (1272-1307) who was at the time of his father’s death on the Ninth Crusade. He returned to England in 1274 when he was crowned. Edward’s reign is notable for his conquest of Wales in 1282 and for his attempt to conquer Scotland. However, the majority of historians agree that the legal and constitutional development during Edward’s reign was of greater significance than his military achievements. He played an important role in defining the English common law and he is often referred as Edward the Lawgiver or the English Justinian. Edward’s inner politics was also marked by the formation of the Parliament which began to meet regularly during his reign. His successor Edward II (1307-1327) did not pursue his father’s policy and did not had the capacity to govern. In 1311, the barons forced him to accept the appointment of a committee of 21 lords ordainers which limited the king’s power over finances and appointments, while the Scots decisively defeated the English forces at Bannockburn in 1314 and restored their independence. Edward II was forced to abdicate and was most likely murdered at Berkley Castle in 1327.

Edward II was succeeded by his son Edward III (1327-1377) who was a minor at his accession to the throne. The regency was held by his mother Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, Earl of March until 1330 when Edward killed Mortimer and forced his mother to retire. His rule was characterized by the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War which started favorable for England. The English forces won all the major battles but the English advance was halted by the outbreak of the Black Death that swept over western Europe in 1348-1349. Warfare was renewed in 1369 but it was marked by the French victory in the Battle of La Rochelle in 1372.

The enthusiasm for the war waned and Edward’s successor Richard II (1377-1399) had to face general unrest reaching its height with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was provoked by the new tax poll of 1380 to finance the Hundred Years’ War. Richard II managed to suppress the revolt by promising the abolishment of serfdom and further reforms. However, he forgot about his promise after he reestablished order although serfdom in England began to decline and practically disappeared by 1450.

Painting of Henry IV of England by unknown artist, 16th century

Painting of Henry IV of England by unknown artist, 16th century

Richard’s despotic rule brought him into conflict with the barons. Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford took advantage of Richard’s absence in Ireland and general dissatisfaction with his rule, and forced him to abdicate in 1399. Henry of Bolingbroke was crowned as Henry IV (1377-1413) and founded the Lancastrian dynasty. His reign was characterized by the persecution of the Lollards, followers of John Wycliffe which also marked the reign of his successor Henry V (1413-1422). The latter renewed the claim to the French throne resulting in renewal of the war against France. The English forces severely defeated the French in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, while Henry V conquered much of Normandy and concluded formal alliance with the Duchy of Burgundy that had taken Paris. In 1420, Henry V forced Charles VI of France to sign the Treaty of Troyes according to which Henry would marry Charles’ daughter Catherine and would be recognized as heir to the French throne after Charles’ death. However, both Charles VI and Henry V died in 1422.

Henry VI (1422-1461) was an infant at the time of his accession to the throne, while the French recognized the son of Charles VI, Charles VII as king of France. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester became the regent of the Kingdom and protector to Henry VI, while John, Duke of Bedford continued the war against France. However, the French forces led by Joan of Arc lifted the Siege of Orleans in 1429 and the English were forced to withdraw from the continent by 1453. At the same time occurred struggles between the barons for the influence over Henry VI leading to the outbreak of a civil war known as the Wars of the Roses that started almost immediately after the end of the Hundred Years’ War.

A portrait of Edward IV of England

Edward IV

Henry VI became insane shortly before the birth of his son Edward in 1453 and Richard, Duke of York was declared protector of the realm. Henry VI reestablished his authority two years later and excluded Richard from the royal council provoking a struggle over the throne between the House of Lancaster (red rose) and the House of York (white rose). In 1461, the English crown was assumed by Edward IV of York (1461-1483) with help of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick but the civil war continued. The alliance between Edward and Earl of Warwick had fallen apart and Warwick liberated Henry VI and restored him to the throne in 1470. Edward was forced to flee but he returned to England one year later, and defeated and killed Warwick and nearly all the remaining Lancastrian leaders. The Lancastrian line virtually extinguished after the assassination of Henry VI in 1471 and the only rival left was Henry Tudor who was living in exile. The English throne was seized by Richard, Duke of Gloucester (1483-1485) upon Edward’s death and probably had both sons of Edward IV murdered. Richard’s unpopularity reached its lowest point and greatly contributed to his downfall. He was defeated and killed by Henry Tudor in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 due to desertion and switching sides of his key allies. Henry Tudor ascended to the English throne as Henry VII (1485-1509) and founded the Tudor dynasty which ruled England until 1603.

Medieval Life and Society

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Deposition of Romulus Augustulus, the Western Roman Emperor by Odoacer in 476 resulted in the collapse of the Late Antique political system and of its social structure. However, the social changes occurred already before the official Fall of Rome, while formation of the new social order known as feudal system evolved gradually as a combination of Roman social-economic system and tribal-military organization of the barbarian peoples who triumphed over Western Roman Empire.

The barbarian kings in Italy, Iberian Peninsula, France and elsewhere in Europe adopted the Roman titles and methods of government. Although they were practically independent they considered the Byzantine Emperor their suzerain. Feudalism developed in Western Europe in the 8th and 9th century and became the predominant political and social system by the 11th century. For that reason medieval society and related subjects are often referred as the Feudal society. The feudal system was not equal in all countries but there were certain common characteristics such as strict division into social classes: nobility, clergy and peasantry or “those who fight”, “those who pray” and “those who labour”.

Cleric, knight and serf

Cleric, knight and serf

The king was on the top of the hierarchy of an ideal medieval society. Beneath him was a hierarchy of nobles consisting from the nobles who held land directly from the king to those who held only a single manor. Landholding system which based on fiefs or landholding in exchange for providing military service and paying a homage to the overlord eventually evolved into a system of subinfeudation by which the recipient of the fief – the vassal granted part of his fief to one who then became his vassal. Thus evolved very complex relations within the class of nobility, while every noble was someone’s vassal and was bound by mutual ties of loyalty and service. Besides that it was not unusual for one being a vassal to several overlords, while even a king could have been a vassal to another king.

The peasants or serfs who represented the majority of the medieval population and worked for the landlords in exchange for use of his land and his protection were on the bottom of the medieval society. Instability and turmoils in the 9th and 10th centuries forced the remained free peasants to seek protection by the nearest powerful landlord in exchange for their labour and personal freedom. They accepted to became serfs and also granted serfdom of their descendants. Thus serfdom became inheritable, while the principal duty of the serfs according to the medieval perception was to work on the land on which they were bound and which placed them on the very bottom of medieval social hierarchy.

Clergy was placed very high in the medieval social order. The Christianity and the Church had an absolute monopoly over mentality of all social classes, while religious believes had great influence on all medieval institutions as well as on all aspects of life of a Christian. Vassal took his oath on the Bible or holy relics, while serfdom was considered to be determined by God with purpose of survival of humanity. Thus clergy played very important role in the establishment of feudalism, while its hierarchy was very similar to the hierarchy of feudal society. Besides that the Church held much land, while high church officials acted as feudal landlords and lived a leisurely life comparable to the life of high nobility.

The theory of the three classes of feudal society does not describe the whole medieval population. Besides fiefs some men held their land in allod and were without any obligations, while even the three classes of feudal society sometimes referred as “the estates of the realm” were not a homogenous group. Besides city population (bourgeoisie) which was not a part of the “feudal pyramid” medieval society also consisted of population which was in certain way excluded from the feudal order: Jews and other subordinate groups – lepers, homosexuals, disabled persons, foreigners, witches, heretics, beggars, unemployed and outlaws.


27 Jul
July 27, 2012
A 14th century illustration of Pope Urban II

Pope Urban II

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns of a religious character fought from 1096 to 1291 by most of the Christian Europe against the Muslims in the Middle East. However, the Crusades were also launched against the pagan Slavs, Jews, Orthodox Christians, Albigenses, Hussites as well as against political enemies in Europe (such as the Crusade against Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II). The appeal of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexios I Comnenus to the Pope for military assistance against the Seljuk Turks resulted in the convocation of the Council of Clermont by Pope Urban II in November 1095. At the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II called for the Crusade against the Muslims who had occupied the Holy Land and were attacking the Byzantine Empire and gave a cloth crosses to the knights to be sewn into their armor which gave the Crusades their name.

After the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II travelled throughout France preaching and organizing the Crusade. Although he expected his call for the Crusade will be responded only by knights and warriors the majority of those who took up his call were the poor peasants without any fighting skills.

The appeal of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexios I Comnenus to the Pope Urban II is widely regarded as the immediate cause for the Crusades but the real cause for the Crusades laid in Papacy’s and Western Europe’s own interests. The Papacy saw an opportunity to establish its dominance over the Holy Land, while the Crusaders were primarily led by economic, political and social motives. The best evidence for that is the fact that the Crusaders were primarily concentrated on capturing of Palestine instead of helping the Byzantine Empire against the Seljuk Turks of Anatolia.

Medieval Europe (13th to 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The period from the Mongol invasion to the end of Reconquista from the 13th to the 15th century was characterized by great political changes. The Western Europe was marked by the emergence of centralized nation-states: England, France and the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, while Eastern Europe saw the rise of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, a predecessor of the Russian national state.

At the same time when the Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula finally collapsed and Grand Duchy of Muscovy finally defeated the Golden Horde, Southeastern Europe and the Byzantine Empire were subjugated by the Ottoman Empire. The expansion of the Ottoman Empire had a great impact on the future development of the Balkan Peninsula but it greatly effected the rest of Europe as well.

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