MEDIAEVAL BRITAIN
(1066-1485)
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The Church

THE 13th CENTURY: A GREAT PERIOD OF CHURCH BUILDING
The 13th century was a great period of church building in the south and west of England. The landowners of
Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire, including the religious houses which were great landowners, were becomming rich on the profits of sheep rearing and the profitable wool trade with Flanders. As well as many parish churches, Salisbury Cathedral was built between 1220 and 1266, Wells Cathedral was consecrated in 1239 and Glastonbury Abbey was being rebuilt after the fire of 1184.

SERVICES
Mass would have been said in Latin and have been wholly unintelligible to the vast majority of the population although an important part of their lives. The medieval Catholic Church held great temporal power over the daily lives and morals of the population; it was the only intermediary between God and man. This in a society which vividly imagined the penalties for sin and the need for Divine redemption.

THE CIVIL LAW
The medieval Church was responsible for administering trial by ordeal.

During the reigns of the Norman kings when the bishops rendered a great service the Crown and country by providing a body of learned and able administrators, but, by the fourteenth century there were many among the laity, highly trained as lawyers, able to replace the clerics and indeed envious of their monopoly on administration. For a number of years following a petition to parliament in 1371 against the employment of clerics in the royal service, clerics and laymen alternated as chancellors and treasurers of the land.

see also:   The Medieval Church

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Population

The population of England was growing fast at the time and is reckoned to have doubled in the two centuries which followed the compilation of William the Conqueror's Domesday Book. Historians estimate the population of England at about 1300 as between four and six million.

The population was decimated by bubonic plague, the Black Death, which errupted in 1348 and is estimated to have claimed one in three of the population in England. There were two more epidemics in the sixties and seventies.

The Black Death of the 14th century caused much economic as well as personal turmoil, leaving much marginal land untended. Despite this, prosperity seems to have returned quite quickly as we find many churches being built and rebuilt in the 15th century.

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Towns

Apart from the coastal and inland ports, many towns grew up around the numerous Norman castles built throughout England after the conquest of 1066 providing what would today be called "support services" and "industries" to these hubs of local activity. Early in the medieval period, towns would be "owned" in the same manner as any manor.

As the populations of the towns grew, particularly after the ravages of the first outbreaks of the black death (1348), so did the emerging merchant class with the coneqent growth of trade and established trade routes (the poor and dangerous condition of the roads meant that most goods were transported by water wherever possible).

As the towns prospered on trade, so did the merchants who, in the interests of the stablity they required for their trading activities, sought to remove the towns from the control of local barons and supported successive monarchs in establishing strong central government. The medival monarchs encouraged the growth of both trade and towns and the granting of charters to those towns rich enough to afford them became a major source of royal revenue.

The merchants became the eilte of the townsfolk and it was their money which bought the charters guaranteeing the independance of the towns which they governed (although the merchant guilds frequently clashed with the craft guilds over power). This growth in the indepence of the towns contributed to breakdown of feudal society centered on the manor.

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Dress

When Joan of Arc was captured by the English and tried for aiding the Dauphin of France against them, the only charge which she could be convicted of by her judges was that of wearing men's clothes - an offence for a woman of the time.  

THE CIVIL LAW
The medieval Church was responsible for administering
trial by ordeal.

William the Conqueror found slaves being sold abroad from the north of England and Bristol and passed laws prohibiting this export trade. Their wording lays the emphasis is on preventing Christians being sold to non-believers rather than finding fault the practice of slavery.

Medieval Trials

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Medieval Monarchs of England

MEDIAEVAL MONARCHS OF ENGLAND

  • 1066-1154 Norman
  • 1154-Plantagenet
  • Lancastrian
  • Yorkist  

  • House of Normandy
    1066-1087 William (the Conqueror) I
    1087-1100 William (Rufus) II
    1100-1135 Henry I
    1135-1154 Stephen & Matilda

    House of Plantagenet
    1154-1189 Henry II
    1189-1199 Richard I
    1199-1216 John
    1216-1272 Henry III
    1272-1307 Edward I
    1307-1327 Edward II
    1327-1377 Edward III
    1377-1399 Richard II

    House of Lancaster
    1399-1413 Henry IV
    1413-1422 Henry V
    1422-1461 Henry VI

    House of York
    1461-1483 Edward IV
    1483 Edward V
    1483-1485
    Richard III

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    Royal Offices

    Chancellor of the Exchequer
    The office originated in the 12th century.
    First Lord of the Treasury
    Responsible for administration of the royal treasury in the absence of the Lord Treasurer, the office evolved into that of the modern Prime Minister.
    Lord Chancellor
    While the office of Chancellor is an ancient one, its significance varies in different periods.
    Lord Treasurer
    The official responsible for administration of the royal treasury. Originating in Medieval times, it ceased to be used after 1714.

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    ECONOMY
    Food and clothing for the household of a large landholder would be produced on the home farm but income was usually derived from the rents paid by tenant farmers. While rents were subject to a certain extent by the fortunes of farming, those landlords who raised sheep derived a steadier income from the important
    wool trade. The larger landowners (clerical as well as lay) took part in politics which, while a precarious occupation, put them in touch with many business opportunities.

    LAND DISPUTES
    The fifteenth century was a period of perpetual squabbles between landowners about the title of lands. These could drag on for many years sometimes leading to violence as a claimant sought to enforce his claim with his armed retainers. With the agriculture of the period depressed, such situations had dire consequences for the tenant farmers who had replaced feudal serfs as both disputing landlords might send armed servants to forcibly collect rents.

    LAND TENURE
    Although most farmers had become tenants by the fifteenth century and paid money rents rather than rendering feudal service the landlord still held great sway by presiding over the manorial court or court leet, either in person or by his steward.

    WARS OF THE ROSES (1455-1485)
    For three decades the Houses of York and Lancaster fought for the Crown in what mch later became known as the 'Wars of the Roses' after their emblems.

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    End of the Middle Ages

    Many have claimed the year 1485, when Henry, Earl of Richmond won the Battle of Bosworth Field and the Wars of the Roses to found the Tudor dynasty as King Henry VII, as the end of the 'feudalism' and the 'Middle Ages' in England.

    While the Tudors enforced the King's law in the land by freeing the Privy Council and law courts from the grip of the barons and placing them under the control of the Crown and forbade the personal retainers which, for example, allowed the Duke of Norfolk to besiege Caister Castle in 1469 in a private quarrel over right of possession, the process was one of gradual change. In the north, subject to the more-or-less regular raids of the Scots, the marcher barons enjoyed considerable autonomy and many aspects of the feudalism remained until the unification of the crowns of England and Scotland by James I in 1603.

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    1000Canute attempted to establish an empire in northern Europe consisting of Norway, Sweden, Denmark with England at its hub. He attempted to rule England as an English king and, except for the Norman Conquest in 1066, gave England a period of comparative peace for about 200 years.
    The Norman Conquest, the last invasion of England, radicaly changed the course of British History.
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    1066.Oct.14THE NORMAN CONQUEST OF ENGLAND: The Battle of Hastings or Senlac - Harold II slain and the English defeated by William, Duke of Normandy
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    1258The Provisions of Oxford issued by the Parliament which met there
    The barons led by Simon de Monfort force reforms on Henry III. This is the first legal document produced in English since the Norman Conquest
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    DORSET

    CORNWALL   DEVON   DORSET   HAMPSHIRE   ISLE OF WIGHT   SOMERSET   WILTSHIRE  

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    Bibliography

    The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages
      by Rashdall, publisher
    Oxford, 1895

    Cathedral Shrines of Medieval England
      by Ben Nilson, publisher Boydell and Brewer, ISBN0851155405

    Life in a Medieval Abbey
      by Tony McAleavy, publisher English Heritage

    Anglo-Norman Medicine: vol. II Shorter Treatises
      by Tony Hunt, publisher Boydell and Brewer, ISBN0859915239
    An insight into conditions in medieval England.

    The Great Household in Late Medieval England
      by CM Woolgar, publisher Yale UP, 1999

    Recommend a Book for this Page

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