High Middle Ages
At this point, we’ve talked about the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of the Catholic Church, and the practices of feudalism and manorialism that began after a long series of invasions throughout Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries, so let’s move on to the period of time known as the High Middle Ages (1000-1300).
Life was picking up pace and improving during the High Middle Ages, in part because the climate of Europe got a little warmer. Areas that could not be farmed in the Early Middle Ages were suddenly new places to grow food and raise animals, and with more farming came more food. This meant that people were healthier than before, and they could store any extra supplies they had for later seasons.
The population grew and grew, and eventually, new cities were built and small towns expanded to become cities. In fact, cities seemed to constantly be in a state of construction, because as soon as they had grown large enough to fit the people living there, new people arrived. Old city walls were either kept or torn down. Cities of the High Middle Ages would appear very odd and crowded to us, but keep in mind, this was a time before a lot of thought and planning went into creating cities. The most important thing was giving people a place to live where they would be protected.
Education became even more important in the High Middle Ages. Previously the Catholic Church had been the only true place of learning, but universities began to grow in larger cities, attracting the attention of young nobles who wanted to study new ideas about the world around them. Of course, this meant that towns became even more crowded than before and a bit noisier. Even in the Middle Ages, students would be students.Rulers were becoming more important, too. In 1066, William the Conqueror (originally from France) became the King of England. He attempted to bring together the Anglo-Saxons of the British Isles and the Normans of France in one united group of people, while still paying attention to the traditions of both cultures. Eventually, Norman culture had such an impact on the Anglo-Saxons that a new culture was born: Anglo-Norman. French (the language of the Normans) became the common language spoken by nobles, Latin was still used by the Church, and everyone else spoke Old English, a very different form of English than we speak today.Changes made to the practice of feudalism during William’s rule shifted who had the most power (in this case, the king and not simply lords), and his style of government influenced how the British Isles were governed for centuries afterward, including the creation of a very early form of Parliament, which eventually divided in the fourteenth century into the House of Lords and the House of Commons you might be familiar with from today’s times.
Many kings came after William, not simply in England but across Europe as well. Each king had his own changes to make to how things were run—sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. One king in particular—King John, who took the English throne in 1199—made his people (and the clergy) so angry over his demands for more taxes and his harsh punishments that the people of England responded by creating a document known as the Magna Carta, which laid out the basic rights of the people. No more taxes for funding wars, the people of England said, until the document had been signed. King John reluctantly signed their document, and history was made.
Meanwhile, the Church was gaining a good amount of power, and we cannot talk about the High Middle Ages without noting that during this period, the famous Crusades began, sending knights and pilgrims to Jerusalem to take over the Holy Land. However, this topic is worth its own section, and for now, we’ll stick to the basics of the High Middle Ages.
In summary, the High Middle Ages saw many changes: more food, more people, and more trade with other cultures than ever before. New areas of the world were being explored, and great explorers such as Marco Polo were making names for themselves. Europeans were divided into separately-ruled areas that we recognize today, such as Portugal, Spain, France, England, and Italy (along with other nation-states), but there was still warring over lands and territories. Feudalism was becoming a thing of the past, and people were moving toward a more city-focused lifestyle, with shops and shop-signs, markets and goods, and even guilds for learning new trades. Life was certainly very different than it had been in the Early Middle Ages.