CHAPTER 8 Medieval Europe

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1 CHAPTER 8 Medieval Europe Clovis, King of the Franks, converted to Christianity near the end of the fifth century. He converted because his wife kept begging him to do so, and because he wanted the help of the Church in Rome, which he thought would make him stronger than neighboring Germanic kings. The other Germanic kings belonged to another faction of the Christian religion which had developed earlier than the new Roman Catholic Church. He would therefore be the only Roman Catholic king in the area and gain the support of the Church. The Roman Catholic Church thought of the other group of Christians, the Arians, as heretics, or untrue Christians. Little by little, Clovis took control of most of the Western Roman Empire. Before he did so, small kingdoms were continually fighting each other. Many of the Germanic kingdoms based their governments on the Roman government. Theodoric was one example. When he established the kingdom of the Ostrogoths in Italy, he based his government on Roman law. Muslims invaded the Germanic kingdoms in the 700s. The Christians stopped the Muslims when they tried to invade France. This was an important victory, because it halted the spread of Islam into Western Europe, although the Muslims still had a significant effect on European civilization. Charles Martel established the Carolingian dynasty, and his son Pepin was elected king. When Pepin died, his son Charles, who became known as Charlemagne, ruled the Carolingian dynasty. Charlemagne was in power from 768 to 814. He came to rule over most of Europe. He won back many areas of the Western Roman Empire which had previously been conquered and was crowned Emperor of the Romans in 800. He hoped to convert the whole empire to Christianity. He encouraged the organization of parishes. A parish was a rural district that had its own priest. Christians had to pay ten percent of their income, or a tithe, to the Church. This money was used to support the parishes. Because of his interest in administration and in seeing the Church function successfully, Charlemagne encouraged a basic education system that was centered in monasteries. He also helped establish uniform laws. By encouraging education throughout the empire he 1

2 strengthened the foundations of medieval civilization. He set up schools and libraries. A monk named Alcuin established a palace school at Charlemagne s court. During his reign, monks developed the art of illumination. Illumination was the art of decorating the first letter of a paragraph and the margins of a page of a manuscript with brilliant designs. After Charlemagne died, his grandsons drew up the Treaty of Verdun. This treaty divided the empire into three kingdoms. At the same time, invaders assaulted Europe. The Hungarians, or Magyars, the Slavs and the Vikings, who were Scandinavian farmers and traders who took to the sea after their homeland became overpopulated, all attacked. A portion of France was given to the Vikings. They also took over part of England. This area was called Danelaw, because they lived there under their own laws. The map below shows the invasions of Europe from The Vikings came from the modern day countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. They invaded the modern day countries of the former Soviet Union, Iceland, England, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, France and Corsica. The Magyars came from Hungary in Eastern Europe. They invaded Germany, France and Italy. The Muslims controlled land on the African, Asian and European continents. They concentrated their invasions on the Western Mediterranean. The Muslims created the largest, most powerful empire of the three. This was probably so because they won many converts to Islam in the places they conquered. 2

3 Nobles who were powerful enough were forced to defend their own lands, because many rulers weren t strong enough to protect them. During this time of decentralized royal control, lords and their warriors were very important to each other. The warriors fought for lords, who, in turn, took care of the warriors needs. Warfare was important during this time, because it was the most common method of settling conflicts involving boundaries, inheritance and obligations. This system of rule by local lords, or greater nobles, loyal to the king was called feudalism. Lords who had a lot of land would divide it up among vassals, or lesser lords. Lords owed their vassals protection, and vassals owed their lords a certain number of days of military service each year. Lords also reaped a number of financial rewards from this arrangement. For example, a vassal had to pay a fee, or relief, to his lord each year. Chivalry, a code of conduct by which knights were guided, was eventually developed by medieval nobles. It combined military virtues with those of Christianity. A knight was supposed to be brave, courteous towards his enemies and generous to deprived people. It also set rules for fighting. Troubadours, or wandering poets, wrote about all of the good qualities of women and passed their attitudes on to others when they entertained. The code of chivalry also helped to improve the treatment of women. Before this time, noblewomen were not treated very well. They couldn t rule fiefs, and their marriages were arranged. They were in charge of the house and of raising large families. They were taught how to cook, nurse and weave. In the ninth century, manorialism began to develop. This was a system where the land was owned by a lord and was divided up among peasants who farmed it. Peasants who were tied to the land were known as serfs. The lands administered by a lord were known as a manor. In return for the land, the peasants would pay money to the lord for the use of the mill, heirs would also pay fees for the right to continue working the land, and serfs would also give him crops and perform services for him. Some of the services they performed were building roads, fixing up the lord s castle and giving military aid when needed. Land was divided into the demesne, arable and meadow lands. The demesne was land that the lord kept for himself; the arable was the land that was divided up among the peasants, and the meadow lands were used for grazing livestock. If a lord owned a number of manors, he would have an agent, or bailiff, manage his smaller estates. 3

4 Food production was improved by the introduction of the threefield system, watermills and horseshoes. The three-field system helped keep soil fertile and reduced the risk of starvation. Watermills offered new energy supply and horseshoes made it possible for horses to pull plows. The special feature on textbook page 173, Bodo and Ermentrude: A Medieval Peasant Family, gives us an idea of what life must have been like in the Middle Ages. It gives a day to-day account of a medieval peasant family. Some of the things it talks about are the roles of men and women, what holidays were celebrated and how influential the Church was. Feudalism and manorialism both developed, in part, from earlier customs under the Roman Empire. If you recall, peasant farmers had worked the land of great landowners. In return, they received small plots of land and homes for their work. During the Middle Ages, the Church became increasingly influential. It played a part in all facets of feudal life. For example, the Church controlled large parcels of land, and the clergy were active in political affairs. The Church even played a part in reducing feudal warfare by trying to regulate it. Monks traveled around spreading Christianity. For example, Boniface traveled to Saxony to spread Christianity among the Germanic peoples who lived there. Parish priests played a large role in the lives of medieval people. They took care of the sick and the poor. They taught in villages, and they conducted mass in the manor Church. Some Christians believed that they needed to withdraw from the world to best serve God. They set up monasteries and convents, where groups of monks or nuns, or religious orders, lived. They were governed by strict rules and often dedicated their lives to helping others. For example, Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscan order of monks, which was dedicated to serving the poor. Other religious orders taught new farming techniques, cared for the sick, orphaned and homeless and offered a place for travelers to take shelter. The seven sacred rites administered by the Church were called the sacraments. Christians thought that the sacraments were the path to salvation, the opposite of which was eternal suffering. If someone didn t follow the rules of the Church, they could not receive the sacraments. 4

5 In the 900s, some members of the Church pushed for reforms. Members of the clergy had become corrupt, and changes were needed. The Cluny reforms banned simony, which was the buying and selling of church offices. It was banned in favor of hard work and service to God. In the excerpt, A Personal Look at Charlemagne, (in the Discussion section of lesson 8) Eginhard discusses Charlemagne s personal life. He talks about his appearance and hobbies, among other things. He offers evidence to show the good proportions of Charlemagne s body. For example, he remarks that his height was seven times the length of his feet. According to Eginhard, Charlemagne enjoyed riding, swimming and hunting. He also bestowed special favors upon teachers of liberal arts. He lived at his palace in Aix during the last years of his life. We can infer that there were naturally hot waters, where he practiced swimming, at Aix. The picture of Charlemagne at left and the description of him given by Eginhard are quite different. Eginhard describes his eyes and nose as very large, but in the picture his features seem regular. Eginhard also describes him as stout, while in the picture he does not appear to be so. Eginhard seems to contradict his favorable impression of Charlemagne by describing him as being corpulent, or fat, having a thick neck and saying that his voice was not as strong as one would expect. Charlemagne didn t seem to care much about royal pomp. According to Eginhard, he only wore rich dress on festival days. He dressed like common people most of the time. He also judged cases while in his dressing room. 5

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