1. Feudal system
2. Kings of the medieval England. William I
3. William Rufus.
4. Henry I
5. Henry II
6. Richard I
7. King John
8. Henry III
9. Edward I
10. Edward II
11. Edward III
12. Richard II
13. England in the 15th century
14. The wars of the Roses
15. People. Rich people in the Middle Ages
16. A peasant’s life in the Middle Ages
17. The church in the Middle Ages
18. Education in the Middle Ages
19. Children in the Middle Ages
20. Food in the Middle Ages
21. Clothes in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages encompass one of the most exciting and turbulent times in English History. The Medieval people of the Middle Ages were warlike, they have even been described as barbaric. The Crusades exposed the Europeans to a more refined culture. The elegance of the Far East, with its silks, tapestries, precious stones, perfumes, spices, pearls, and ivory prompted a change in culture with a new and unprecedented interest in beautiful objects and elegant manners. But meanwhile the battles for new territory and power raged on in Middle Ages History. The History of the Middle Ages covers the major historical events which occurred during the period from 1066 - 1485. The History of the Middle Ages starts in England with the Battle of Hastings in 1066 which ended the period classified as the Dark Ages. The events in Middle Ages History continue down the timeline until 1485 which ends the War of the Roses, the start of the Tudor dynasty and the emergence of the Renaissance.
The life of all the classes was dominated by the feudal system. The society was organized into a kind of pyramid. At the top of the pyramid was the king. Below him were the barons or tenants-in-chief. The king granted them land and in return they had to provide soldiers in time of war.
The church was an important part of the feudal system. The church owned vast amounts of land and livestock. Furthermore the peasants had to give a one tenth of everything they produced (crops, eggs, animals) to the church. Many bishops and abbots were very rich and powerful.
In the Middle Ages the king ruled by divine right. In other words people believed that God had chosen him to be king and rebellion against him was a sin. However that did not stop rebellions! Kings had limited power in the Middle Ages and rebellion was easy. A great deal depended on the personality of the king. If he was a strong character he could control the barons. If he were weak or indecisive the barons would often rebel. Warrior kings who fought successful wars were the most powerful as they were popular with the nobility.
Kings of the medieval England
William, Duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England on 25 December 1066. However at first his position was by no means secure. He had only several thousand men to control a population of about 2 million. Furthermore Swein, king of Denmark also claimed the throne of England. At first the Normans were hated invaders and they had to hold down a resentful Saxon population. In 1078 William began building the Tower of London.
William stayed in Normandy from March to December 1067. When he returned to England his first task was to put down an uprising in the Southwest. He laid siege to Exeter. Eventually the walled town surrendered on honorable terms.
Although Southern England was now under Norman control the Midlands and North were a different matter. In 1068 William marched north through Warwick and Nottingham to York. The people of York submitted to him for the moment and William returned to London Cambridge and York.
William had changed the church in England. In those days the church was rich and powerful and the king needed its support. William replaced senior Saxon clergymen with men loyal to himself.
William died in 1087 and he was succeeded by his son, also called William (sometimes called Rufus because of his complexion).
Rufus was definitely not a supporter of the church and was deeply unpopular with the clergy. Among other things they criticized him and his courtiers for having long hair. (In his father's day short hair was the fashion).
However in many ways Rufus was a capable king. Under him the barons were in an awkward position because most of them held land in Normandy as well as in England. Many of them wanted a single man to rule both. So in 1088 there was a rebellion in eastern England. The rebels hoped to dispose of Rufus and make his brother Robert ruler of both England and Normandy. However Rufus crushed the rebellion. A second rebellion in 1095 also crushed.
William Rufus was hit by an arrow while hunting in the New Forest. We will never know for certain if it was an accident or he was murdered.
Following the 'accidental' death of William Rufus his brother Henry seized the royal treasure in Winchester and was crowned king of England.
Henry I was born in 1068 and he was well educated. When he seized the throne he issued a charter promising to rule justly. He also gained favor with his Saxon subjects by marrying Edith, a descendant of Edmund Ironside’s. Very importantly he also had the support of the church.
Henry proved to be a capable monarch. He frequently quarreled with his brother Robert, Duke of Normandy. In 1101 Robert invaded England, landing at Portsmouth Harbor but by the treaty of Alton he agreed to go home again. However the peace did not last long. In 1105 Henry invaded Normandy. In 1106 he won the battle of Tichenbrai.
Henry also formed a royal zoo in England with exotic animals such as lions, leopards, lynxes, camels and a porcupine.
Meanwhile Henry had many illegitimate children but he only had one legitimate son called William. William drowned in 1120 when his ship sank. Henry was left without an heir. Before he died in 1135 Henry made the barons promise to accept his daughter Matilda as queen.
However when Henry died of food poisoning at the age of 67 many barons felt a woman could not rule England and they supported Henry's nephew Stephen. So Stephen was crowned king of England. Yet Matilda would not give up her claim to the throne and she had many supporters too. As a result a long civil war began in 1135, which went on till 1154.
The fighting only ended when, shortly before his death, Stephen agreed to recognize Matilda's son Henry as his heir. Following Stephen's death in 1154 Matilda’s son became King Henry II. He proved to be a strong and capable ruler.
Henry II was the first Plantagenet king. He was born at Le Mans in France in 1133. However Henry did not just rule England. He also ruled large parts of France. From 1150 he was Duke of Normandy. From 1151 he was Count of Anjou. By marrying Eleanor of Aquitaine he became the Lord of that part of France. Later he also became ruler of Brittany. As an adult Henry spent more time in France than he did in England.
Henry proved to be a strong king. During the long civil war many barons had built illegal castles. Henry had them demolished. Furthermore Henry reformed the law. He appointed judges who traveled around the country holding trials called assizes for serious offences.
Henry also had trouble from his sons because he refused to give them any real power. He had 8 children of whom 4 died in infancy. Four sons survived, Henry, Geoffrey, Richard and John the youngest. In 1173-74 Henry faced a rebellion by his four eldest sons assisted by their mother. Henry put down the rebellions and he forgave his sons. However his wife was held a prisoner for the rest of Henry's reign.
In 1189 Henry faced another rebellion. This time his youngest son, John joined the rebellion. That broke his heart and Henry died in 1189.
Richard I was born in 1157. In his own time he was a popular king because he was a successful warrior.
But in 1194, when coming back from the Jerusalem, he was imprisoned by the Duke of Austria. Richard's subjects were forced to pay a huge ransom to release him. After his release Richard returned to England but he soon left for Normandy. He never saw England again. While besieging a castle Richard was hit by a crossbow bolt. He died in 1199 and was followed by his brother John.
John proved to be a failure. John fought a war against the king of France from 1200 top 1206, as a result of which he lost most of his lands in France. He also, in 1205, began an argument with the Pope over who should be the new Archbishop of Canterbury, John's choice or the Pope's. As a result in 1208 the Pope place England under an interdict, which meant that religious services could not be held. In 1209 he excommunicated John. Finally, in 1213, John was forced to submit.
Meanwhile John alienated many of his subjects. They claimed that he ruled like a tyrant ignoring feudal law. He was accused to extorting money from people, selling offices, increasing taxes and creating new ones whenever he wished. Matters came to a head after John tried to recapture his lost lands in France in 1214 but failed. The barons patience was exhausted. Finally in 1215 civil war broke out. In June 1215 John was forced to accept a charter known as Magna Carta at Runnymede. The charter was meant to stop the abuses. It stated that the traditional rights and privileges of the church must be upheld. It also protected the rights and privileges of the aristocracy. Merchants who lived in towns were also mentioned. However ordinary people were overlooked.