Medieval Europe

The Power Of The Pope

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Leadership/Government – How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.

Religion – A belief system that influences the development of a civilization.

During the Middle Ages, the people of Europe began to unite due to common ground, most notably religion. Christianity held the countries and continent together, and since religion was a powerful bond, the Catholic Church, and especially the pope had great power. He was viewed as God’s representative on earth. This position made whoever held the office responsible not only for the spiritual well-being of the people, but also for issuing  bulls, writings on moral and spiritual teachings or church policy, for the rest of Europe to live by. When Europe fell apart after the fall of Rome in ancient Europe, the pope was looked to for reassurance and leadership. The pope’s power also lent them to political stances, and thus significant wealth. Many popes built palaces to live in, wore the finest clothes, and ate and drank choice foods and wine.

Later in Feudal European history, the pope often disagreed with kings of various countries, due to moral or spiritual issues. If the king refused to do what the pope saw as right, the pope could excommunicate him, meaning the king was removed from the church. Many Christians feared this verdict because it implied that the ruler wouldn’t go to heaven at the end of his life.

 

 

Monasteries, Monks, and Universities

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Social Classes – How a civilization is divided into classes that have different roles, responsibilities, and privileges.

Religion – A belief system that influences the development of a civilization.

Monks Commit to A Life Religious Of Solitude

As the Catholic church’s officials gained wealth and got involved in politics, other people grew concerned that the church wasn’t maintaining its Christian morals and values, or properly teaching those they were supposed to be. They created the first known religious order, living as monks in a monastery, where they could commit their lives to religious matters and simple rules to live by. These rules included not owning land or getting married, so they could dedicate their lives to God.

Monks became an example for other people across Europe who sought to devote their lives to Christian worship. Many monks rewrote religious texts, hundreds of which have been found preserved in monasteries in modern times. Soon, other religious orders arose, some with even stricter schedules of prayer and religious study. Religious orders of women, called nunneries or convents, became common throughout Europe. Monasteries and convents offered help to nearby towns in terms of food and healthcare, as well as sanctuary from trouble. Many of the religious orders became self-reliant, with gardens and animals for food.

Additionally, some religious order members longed to NOT hide away in a monastery, but rather take God and His word to the world. The friars walked Europe in simple robes and barefoot, offering comfort and aid to the people of towns they traveled to in exchange for food and a place to sleep when they could find it. Two specific groups of friars are well known, the Dominicans founded by Dominac de Guzman and the Franciscans founded by Francis of Assisi.

Religious Study Deepens in the Form of Universities

While monks hid away for simpler lives, other Europeans embraced the chance to learn religious texts and funded the creation of universities. The Catholic Church even commissioned some of them. Other universities were created so that students could study the world around them; subjects such as law, astronomy, and medicine were taught. Human reason was also a major topic. Eventually, people began to question if religion and human reason contradicted each other, and also whether a feudal system truly treated all men fairly. This eventually lead to the start of the Renaissance.

Charlemagne: A Unifier of Europe

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Leadership/Government – How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.

Social Classes – How a civilization is divided into classes that have different roles, responsibilities, and privileges.

Decline – How each kingdom lost strength and regional influence.

The Fall of Rome Opens a Position for the Catholic Church’s Favorite King Candidate

Corruption, invaders, and a failing economy due to war left Rome desolate and weak by 500 CE. About this time, the ferocious  tribe called the Franks conquered Gaul, or modern France, with a different type of warfare. Their troops of heavily armored knights defeated their opponents from horseback. Through the marriage of their leader Clovis to a Christian woman Clotilda, the Franks were converted to Christianity. 

Almost 200 years later, an even stronger leader arose from the Franks. Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great, ruled his ever-expanding empire from 768 to 814. In those times, he battled and conquered many neighboring kingdoms, and absorbed parts of modern Germany, Italy, and northern Spain under his rule. Most of his kingdom  had once belonged to the Roman Empire. For this reason,  the then current Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans as a symbolic show of Rome’s power returning. 

Charlemagne’s use of rewards for knights’ service to accomplish his conquests laid the foundation for feudalism in Europe. Feudalism is a economical and political system in which a king grants lands to a noble or knight in exchange for service, and serfs or peasants work the land for the nobles. In return, the serfs were protected from the dangers of frequent invaders.

In addition to being a fierce leader and conqueror, Charlemagne was a deep thinker and scholar. He built many universities and hired scholars to teach at his capital city of Aachen in modern western Germany. These efforts in education lasted well beyond the Middle Ages and proliferated the cause of the Renaissance.

The Roles of Lords, Knights, and Serfs

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Leadership/Government – How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.

Social Classes – How a civilization is divided into classes that have different roles, responsibilities, and privileges.

European Lands are Swapped for War Service

As Charlemagne and his knight armies swept through Europe to conquer and unite its people, he offered lands and titles to his knights in exchange for their service. These deals and his subsequent vast kingdom lead to most of Europe’s land being owned by nobles, retired knights, or other members of their families. 

Around 800 CE, a united Europe began to be attacked by Vikings, Muslims, and Magyars. The nobles couldn’t rely on the Frankish Kings to protect them, so they built their own armies instead. In exchange for the loyalty of horse-riding and well-trained knights, nobles offered fiefs, pieces of land. This relationship between knights, or vassals, and nobles, or lords, is called feudalism by historians. Each side had certain responsibilities within their agreement. A vassal must come to help defend his lord when sent for, as well as give his lord food or money during visits or for special occasions. Lords had to be fair toward his vassal. Vassals could also swear allegiance to multiple lords and grow his fiefs, as well as become a lord himself as long as his obligations as a vassal were met.

Within the feudal system, fiefs were manned by the lowest class, peasants or serfs. Serfs comprised of the approximately eighty to ninety percent of the population and were responsible for farming and long days of hard labor tending to the feudal manor. Jobs such as cutting wood, feeding and cleaning up after animals, and building roads and wells were common. Some lived well under a fair lord, while others suffered poverty or cruelty beneath their lord.

The Black Death

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Economy – How a Civilization makes money by the buying and selling of goods and services.

Decline – How each kingdom lost strength and regional influence.

Disease Traded on the Silk Road

In the early 1300s, the silk road was the main trade route between Asia and Europe. Unfortunately, this high trade traffic also aided in the spread of the plague, a vicious series of diseases that took out 24% of Europe’s population between 1347 and 1351. Historians have concluded that ships from Asia carried infested rats to Italian ports. From there, the Black Death, as it was later called due to dark blotches on victims’ skin, spread north and west into France, England, Germany, and Spain. Fleas bit infected rats and then hopped to a new host, transmitting the disease. The unsanitary conditions of most European towns, such as dead animals and human body waste in the streets and bad hygiene,  also contributed. Most of the infected suffered fever, coughing and sneezing fits, vomiting, golf-ball sized swollen bumps, and black or blue patches on their skin. Many villages and feudal manors were abandoned, as neighbors and lords fell prey to the disease. Meanwhile, doctors pictured above, had very little knowledge of how the disease was spread, concluding that it was spread by bad air or God’s wrath on the sinful.

How the Plaque Broke Down Feudalism

The unprejudiced nature of the disease ravished Europe. When the disease finally  died out, so many members of society had died that serfs’ labor specialties were in high demand. Serfs could ask for wages and better living conditions and lords desperate for workers would pay it. Many serfs also left their lords to go to the cities for better opportunities. These changes in demands and commerce, as well as the rising thoughts on human reasoning and the value of all men taking hold in universities, took power and control from lords and put it back in the hands of kings and the common people.

The Magna Carta

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Decline – How each kingdom lost strength and regional influence.

The Signing of the First Democratic Document

The kings of the early Middle Ages took advantage of their power, doing as they pleased  with their land and citizens. Many of their nobles became angry at being treated  this way by their sovereign. In England 1215, a group of nobles forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in a meadow called Runnymede, beside the  River Thames. The Magna Carta was a document that laid out 63 demands. It consisted of the first democratic laws put into effect. One demand insisted that the king discuss new or raised taxes with his nobles and the clergy of the church before imposing them. Another demand on the Magna Carta was that  royal officials couldn’t take wood from nobles’ property. One demand in the document was that the king couldn’t place anyone in jail without a fair trail. This  demand eventually led to the law of “habeas corpus”, Latin for “you have the body”, meaning everyone had a right a fair trial before being placed in prison. Lastly, the Magna Carta made it so everyone, even the king, had to  follow the law.

Though at the time these demands were to check the king’s power, they later became the foundation for laws in England, giving way to  a parliament, the council body governing England even today.  Parliament had two groups: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Magna Carta also became a lasting political and social statement on the freedoms of the English people.

The Crusades

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Religion – A belief system that influences the development of a civilization.

Decline – How each kingdom lost strength and regional influence.

In the late 1000s, a group of Christians on pilgrimage from holy sites in Jerusalem informed Europeans that an army of Turkish Muslims had attacked and controlled Palestine. These attacks moved northwest into the Byzantine Empire. The Orthodox Emperor there requested help from Catholic Pope Urban III, who then sent word throughout Europe for nobles to stop squabbling with each other over land and to unite against the  threat.

Crowds of people responded, from the common man to kings, and gathered in France. The first batch of fighters who marched in 1096 were mere commoners with limited fighting skills. They sewed crosses onto their clothing to show they were fighting for God. The word Crusade by which the following wars over Palestine came to be called, meant “marked with a cross” in Latin. The Turks easily destroyed those who weren’t killed on the way by poor diets and disease.

The next wave in 1099 contained armored knights and trained warriors, and they managed to take back Jerusalem and divided their conquest into four feudalistic kingdoms.

The French and German kings launched the next crusade in 1147, only to lose many men on the way. In less than a year, they were forced to return to Europe due to bad battle strategy and heavy losses. This failed attempt wasn’t  considered a crusade.

When the Muslims retook Jerusalem in 1189, a third crusade was launched by English, German, and French kings. The German King died and the French king retreated. Only  King Richard I surged forward against Saladin of the Muslims. Saladin had a reputation for justice and mercy. He and King Richard battled and negotiated for months. Eventually King Richard gained safe passage for Christian pilgrims, but left Jerusalem in Muslim hands.

The fourth crusade of 1201 left all of Christendom divided.  A smaller army of Frenchmen headed south with the intent to sail from Venice to the Holy Land. However, they didn’t have money to pay so they struck a deal.  The Venetians asked them to sack a rival city in exchange for the trip, and the French agreed.  The army did so, and eventually also attacked Constantinople, a Christian empire!

Vikings Attack!

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Decline – How each kingdom lost strength and regional influence.

Invaders From the North

Even as Charlemagne began to conquer all the European tribes, Europe faced attacks from Magyars (a clan from the Ural Mountain region) to the East and Muslims from the Southeast (which eventually lead to the Crusades). Perhaps the earliest and most feared invaders came from the northern country of Scandinavia. As early as the eighth century, Vikings started to raid villages along  the coasts  of Finland and Sweden. For centuries, they sailed their shallow ships around the coasts and deep inland via river ways, pillaging villages, cities, and monasteries. Those they didn’t kill were often captured to sell as slaves.  Later in the Middle Ages, the Norsemen settled in Ireland and England, using them as home bases between attacks on the rest of Europe.

The Vikings attacks and the Europeans’ need to defend themselves set the stage for Feudalism to prosper. Frank leader Charlemagne led a strong war campaign in which he rewarded faithful knights, and many leaders who reigned after him followed his example. Lords and barons built walls and castles, and manned them with trained warriors to defend against Vikings and other invaders.