Home / West in the Middle Ages 481 A.D. – 1485 A.D.

West in the Middle Ages 481 A.D. – 1485 A.D.

Important Dates and Events in the West in the Middle-Ages 481 – 1485

481 Clovis is crowned king of the Franks; he converts his subjects to Christianity.

529 Benedict founds the Benedictine order of monks.

752 Pepin the Short, first of the Carolingians, is elected king of the Franks.

771 Charlemagne, son of Pepin, succeeds him and adds to the kingdom through wars of conquest.

778 Charlemagne is defeated at Roncesvalles in Spain by Moslems.

800 Charlemagne is crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pope.

814 Death of Charlemagne; his grandsons divide his empire.

849 The Moslem Saracens invade Italy and are stopped near the gates of Rome.

871 Alfred the Great of England defeats the Danish invaders in the west.

885 Norsemen besiege Paris but the defenders, led by the Count of Paris, drive them away.

910 The monastery of Cluny is founded and begins a reform movement in the church.

911 Norsemen are given permission to settle part of France.

933 The German army stops the invasions of Magyars.

962 Otto the Great of Germany is crowned Holy Roman Emperor.

987 Hugh Capet, Count of Paris, is crowned king of France, founding a dynasty lasting 800 years.

1016 Canute, a Dane, seizes the English throne.

1066 William, duke of Normandy, invades England and defeats King Harold at the battle of Hastings.

1077 Henry IV of Germany is excommunicated and begs the pope’s forgiveness at Canossa, in the west.

1096 Pope Urban II calls for a holy war to free Jerusalem; the first crusade begins.

1099 Crusaders capture Jerusalem from the Saracens.

1122 The Concordat of Worms settles the dispute between the emperor and the pope.

1147 The second crusade.

1152 Frederick Barbarossa becomes emperor; Henry of Anjou marries Eleanor of Acquitaine, uniting much of France under his rule.

1154 Henry of Anjou becomes the first Plantagenet king of England.

1170 Thomas a Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, is murdered.

1189 Frederick Barbarossa, Richard the Lion-Hearted and Philip of France join the third crusade.

1190 Frederick dies in Asia Minor.

1204 Constantinople is sacked by the fourth crusade.

1212 The children’s crusade.

1214 John of England loses his French possessions at the battle of Bouvines.

1215 The English barons force John to sign Magna Carta; the Dominican monks are recognized.

1223 The Franciscan order of monks is recognized by the pope.

1233 The Inquisition is established in Rome.

1265 Simon de Montfort calls the first English Parliament.

1302 Philip the Fair of France calls the first meeting of the Estates General.

1338 The Hundred Years War between England and France begins.

1340 England destroys the French fleet at the battle of Sluys.

1346 England invades Normandy; The English win the battle of Crecy by the use of the long bow.

1347 The English capture and settle Calais.

1356 The English overwhelm the French at Poitiers and capture King John of France.

1415 The English under King Henry V defeat the French at Agincourt and conquer Normandy.

1420 The Treaty of Troyes gives England much of France and recognizes Henry as the next French king.

1422 Death of Henry V.

1429 French troops under Joan of Arc lift the English siege of Orleans; Charles VII is crowned king of France at Rheims.

1431 The English burn Joan of Arc at the stake as a heretic.

1453 End of the Hundred Years War.

1455-1485 The Wars of the Roses between the houses of York and Lancaster.

1477 Louis XI defeats Charles of Burgundy and begins to unify the kingdom of France.

1485 Henry Tudor defeats King Richard III at Bosworth Field to win the crown of England.

The Rise of Nationalism 1272 – l485


JOAN OF ARC did more than inspire the French to drive out the English; her words and actions helped to advance a new idea. During most of the Middle Ages, people did not think of themselves as belonging to a nation. They thought of themselves as members of a church and subjects of a lord. Then, as trade increased, as towns and cities grew‚ as merchants’ and craftsmen’s guilds were formed‚ the forms of society began to change. The barons began to lose some of their power‚ while the kings gained more. Gradually, people begin to think of themselves as part of a nation and a new idea rose — the idea of nationalism. Joan fought not for a single lord or a single community. She fought for France as a whole, for France as a nation and her allegiance was to the king as head of that nation. It was this, as much as her success on the battlefield that frightened the barons of England and made the nobles of France uneasy. They realized that once the idea of nationalism took hold, feudalism would be done for and they with it. Nationalism grew stronger as kings grew stronger; a strong monarch unified his people and gave them a feeling of belonging to a nation. The barons did not give up their power easily and often there were rivals for the throne. In England this led to a long period of conflict known as the Wars of the Roses, which from 1455 to 1485. The name came from the emblems of the two families that that fought to rule England. The emblem of the house of York was a white rose; the emblem of the house of Lancaster, a red rose. The causes of the struggle between the two families …

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The Hundred Years War 1326-1477

Joan of Arc

THE LONG STRUGGLE between France and England, known to history as the Hundred Years’ War, was not really a war — and it lasted more than a hundred years. Rather than a war, it was a series of separate battles, with periods of uneasy peace between and it lasted from 1338 to 1453. It was time of misery for both sides, but the French lost more men and saw much of their land devastated. By the end of the Hundred Years’ War, important changes had taken place in both countries. In France, the years of conflict weakened the power of the nobility and led to the rise of a strong middle class. Warfare would never be the same; the English victories showed that mounted knights, weighed down by heavy armour‚ were no match for archers with longbows and the final battles were decided by artillery. The cause of the war was that the English still held the Duchy of Aquitaine, a rich land in southwestern France and were determined not to lose it. The French were equally determined to drive them out. A further complication was the situation in Flanders. The English sold raw wool to Flemish manufacturers, who wove it into cloth and sold a good part of it back to the English. This trade was important to England and even more so to Flanders and both countries were anxious that nothing should happen to disturb it. The English also kept a watchful eye on the Flemish ports, which could serve as a base for a French attack on England or an English attack on the continent. Flanders was not a completely independent state; its ruler, the Count of Flanders, owed allegiance to the king of France. England tried to destroy the count’s authority by stirring up the Flemish …

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The Town and the Guild 1100 -1382


ONE FINE SPRING MORNING, in the French town of Troyes, in the county of Champagne, a bell rang out through the clear air. The people streaming along the road to the town knew why the bell was ringing; it signaled the start of another day of the fair. Now they walked faster or whipped up their horses, anxious not to miss any of the excitement. Most of them were merchants, who had come to buy the goods that were on display. Some were lords and ladies, who hoped to find gleaming silks from the Orient, or fine Spanish leather, or rich furs from Russia. The rest were peasants and workmen; they had little money to spend, but they might buy a few small things and they would enjoy the clowns, minstrels and jugglers who performed for the crowds on the streets. The fairs of Champagne, held at several towns in that county, had their beginning early in the twelfth century and continued for more than two hundred years. The feudal lords of Champagne, who were called counts, realized that the fairs brought many benefits to them and their people and wisely did everything they could to make Champagne a center of trade. They built spacious warehouses and pavilions for the storage and display of merchandise. To make it easier for merchants from various parts of the world to do business, the counts set up booths where the money of one territory could be exchanged for the money of another. They established a special court to settle disputes over business dealings and their troops protected travelers from the bandits who roamed the roads. The counts themselves profited from all this, for they collected fees from the merchants and traders who took part in the fair. Champagne’s location made it easy to …

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The Crusades 1096-1260


ON A COLD NOVEMBER DAY IN 1096, a great crowd of people gathered in a field at the town of Clermont in France. They had come from miles around and near them were pitched the tents they had put up for shelter. For some days, Pope Urban II had been holding a great council of cardinals, bishops and princes. Today he was to speak to the people and so many wanted to hear that no building was large enough to hold them all. A platform had been built in the center of the field and as Pope Urban stepped up on it a hush fell over the crowd. Pope Urban was a Frenchman and he spoke to the people around him as fellow Frenchmen. “Oh, race of Franks,” he said, “race beloved and chosen by God . . . set apart from all other nations by the situation of your country as well as by your Catholic faith and the honour which you render to the holy Church: to you our discourse is addressed. . . .” “From the confines of Jerusalem and from Constantinople a grievous report has gone forth that an accursed race, wholly alienated from God, has violently invaded the lands of these Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire. They have led away a part of the captives into their own country and a part they have killed by cruel tortures. . .” The people knew what he meant. He was speaking of the Holy Land, that lay on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Here were the cities of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Gaza and Damascus. Here Jesus Christ had lived and preached and had been crucified; here Christianity had begun. Here were many sacred shrines and during the Middle Ages thousands of Europeans …

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The Power of the Church 529 – 1409


IN THE YEAR 1134, in the town of Chartres in France, the church burned down. The church was a cathedral — that is, it was the church of a bishop. The bishop at that time was Theodoric and he immediately began the construction of another cathedral. He knew that the task would not be an easy one; it meant raising large sums of money and finding many workmen and the actual work of building would take years. Bishop Theodoric allowed nothing to stop him, he won the support of the people, of commoners and nobles alike. An eye-witness, who visited Chartres in 1144, wrote that “kings, princes, mighty men of the world, puffed up with honours and riches, men and women of noble birth,” helped in the work, pulling wagons loaded with “wine, corn, oil, lime, stones, beams and other things necessary to sustain life or build churches. . . .” Although a thousand men and women were drawing wagons, “yet they go forward in such silence that no voice, no murmur, is heard. . . When they pause on the way no words are heard but confessions of guilt, with supplications and pure prayer. . . . The priests preach peace, hatred is soothed, discord is driven away, debts are forgiven, unity is restored.” The cathedral was complete in 1180, but fourteen years later a fire broke out again, destroying most of the building. It also destroyed the towns people’s houses. They would have given up both the church and the town if it had not been for a representative of the pope. The fire was God’s punishment for their sins, he warned, and now they must restore the cathedral and put up new houses. The towns people did as he said. Money for the rebuilding of the church …

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The Conquest of England 1066-1265


IN THE DIM LIGHT of early morning, the Frenchmen were preparing for battle. Squires helped the knights put on their armour, grooms brought up the horses‚ archers tested their bows, foot soldiers began to assemble, while mounted messengers hurried busily here and there. The date was October 14, 1066 and before the sun set that day a kingdom would change hands and a new era in English history would begin. The battle, one of the most decisive ever fought, would be known as the Battle of Hastings. The cause of the battle was ambition — the driving ambition of Duke William of Normandy to win himself a kingdom and a crown. The son of a Viking pirate chief, William inherited the French duchy of Normandy in 1035, when he was only eight years old. At the age of twenty he began to govern Normandy himself and he proved to be a stern and able ruler. Under his firm guidance, Normandy prospered and its population increased, until William had become the French king’s most powerful vassal. Unable to seek new lands and glory in France, because of his feudal oath of loyalty to the king, William decided to invade England. Anglo-Saxon England was a loosely knit, rural land which had never really recovered from the Viking raids. The petty kingdoms ruled by Anglo-Saxon chiefs had finally been absorbed into the Viking empire of King Canute. Then, during Edward the Confessor’s reign, the country again became weak as the feudal lords struggled with each other for power. One of these lords, Harold Godwinson, seized the English crown for himself. Three weeks after Harold had taken the throne‚ Duke William crossed the English channel with an army of 5000 men and landed 41 Pevensey Beach. Now King Harold and his hastily gathered army …

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Feudal France 814-1314


AFTER THE BREAKUP OF CHARLEMAGNE’S Empire, France, the western half of the empire, was ruled by a series of weak kings. They were so weak that they were known as the “do-nothing kings,” and indeed, they could do nothing to stop their powerful and greedy nobles from fighting among themselves. Finally the Carolingian line came to an end and the Franks, as the French were then called, elected a new king. He was Hugh Capet, a relative of the famous Count Odo who had directed the defense of Paris against the Vikings. With Hugh began the line of Capetian kings who were to rule France for many generations. The king actually held several positions. He was the sovereign of a vaguely defined nation called France; at the same time he was the feudal lord of his own lands and overlord, of Suzerain, of all other French lords. He was supposed to be defender of the realm, protector of the poor and champion of justice, but he was actually little more than a figurehead, for he had neither soldiers nor money enough to enforce his authority. Like the German monarchs, the Capetian kings faced the problem of winning control of the powerful lords. Also like the Germans, they took the first step by establishing good relations with the Church. In their coronation oath, the French kings swore to defend the Church. In return, for hundreds of years, the Church supported the monarchy against the feudal lords. The hereditary fief of the French kings was the Ile de France, a small, compact area surrounding Paris and it was infested by lawless vassals who terrorized the roads leading to the city. King Louis VI waged war against them. The French nicknamed him Louis the Fat, but his enormous size did not harm his …

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Feudal Germany 936 -1250


THE WINTER of 1077 was one of the coldest on record in Italy. Ice and snow choked the mountain passages in the north and snowdrifts were piled high well into the south — as far south as the castle of Canossa, which was southeast of Parma. The fortified castle belonged to the countess of Tuscany and here Pope Gregory VII had taken refuge, fearing an attack by his enemies. On January 25, a man stood outside the Castle gate, barefoot in spite of the snow and cold. He was no ordinary penitent come to ask forgiveness of the pope. He was Henry IV of Germany, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He had made a long and perilous journey with his wife, his young son and a few followers. For three days the emperor waited for the pope to pardon him and lift the ban of excommunication. Excommunication was banishment from the Church and was the most terrible punishment that could be given to a believer of the Middle Ages. Excommunication meant that he was deprived of all the privileges of a Christian. He could not attend church services, he was denied the sacraments, he could not be buried in consecrated ground. In excommunicating Henry, Pope Gregory hoped to force him to acknowledge the pope’s authority to appoint his own bishops. Henry knew that until the ban of excommunication was lifted his nobles would not accept him as king; he had little choice but to humiliate himself. Pope Gregory, for his part, knew that Henry would be a dangerous opponent once he was restored to the throne, but Gregory, too, had little choice; it was his Christian duty to take back into the Church anyone who begged so humbly for forgiveness. As Gregory later wrote, Henry “came in person to …

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The Castle, the Manor and the Knight 900-1300


COUNT LEON, lord of the vast domain of Grandpré, stirred and waved away his servants. As he opened his eyes, the first rays of the sun were slanting through the narrow windows of his bedchamber. He stared sleepily at the tapestry hanging on the thick stone wall. It depicted a stag hunt and he enjoyed looking at it, for there were few things in the world he loved more than hunting. For a few minutes he lay there, listening to the sounds drifting up from the courtyard –the clop of horses’ hoofs‚ the creak of leather, the clatter of boots on cobblestones. The castle was coming awake. Some of the count’s people would be going to the fields that lay beyond the castle walls and the moat. As far as the eye could see, the land belonged to Count Leon. Although this castle was his principal residence, he had other holdings as well — manors and manor houses, farmlands and forests. It did not occur to the count to feel grateful for his wealth and position and power. After all, they were his right; he had inherited them from his father, who had in turn inherited them from his father, who had been granted the land as a fief by the king. Getting up from his massive bed, Count Leon began to dress, not bothering to call his servants to attend him. He put on a short shirt over the white linen undergarments he wore even when he slept. He pulled long hose up over his legs, then slipped a tunic over his head and belted it at the waist. Finally, he thrust his feet into soft boots, combed his shoulder-length hair with his fingers and went out the door. The count’s clothes were little different from those worn by …

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Fury from the North 814-1042


“. . FROM THE FURY OF THE NORTHMEN, Good Lord, deliver us.” Until recent times, this line was included in the prayer book used by the Church of England. The raids of the Norse Vikings on Britain were so terrible that the victims never forgot them. For generations the memory of the savage Norsemen was kept alive and Englishmen repeated this prayer for more than a thousand years. It was not only Britain that felt the fury of the Norsemen; they raided the European continent as well. The Norsemen’s ships themselves seemed to threaten terror. The hull of a Viking ship was long and narrow, bristling with sweeping oars and studded with round, brightly painted shields. The square sail was painted with coloured stripes and the towering bow was carved into a dragon’s head. When the ships reached shore, their threat of terror proved to be no empty one. A swarm of blond, heavily bearded warriors leaped from the decks and stormed inland, looting, burning, killing. A French chronicler, writing of the Viking invasions, said, “They destroyed houses and razed monasteries and churches to the ground and brought to their death the servants of our holy religion by famine and sword, or sold them beyond the sea. They killed the dwellers in the land and none could resist them. . . . The Northmen ceased not to take Christian people captive and to kill them and to destroy churches and houses and burn villages. Through the streets lay bodies of the clergy, of laymen, nobles and others, of women, children and suckling babes. There was no road nor place where the dead did not lie; and all who saw Christian people slaughtered were filled with sorrow and despair.” The Norsemen, or Northmen, came from the Scandinavian lands which would later …

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