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The (High) Middle Ages in Chaucer’s Europe
General Knowledge
 The Middle Ages formed the middle period in a traditional division of
European history into three "ages":
1. the classical civilization of Antiquity,
2. the Middle Ages
3. Modern Times.
 The Early Middle Ages (476-800) were referred to as the “Dark
Ages” Due to the lack of a Holy Roman Emperor, barbarian raids, and
the lack of art and literature.
 The High Middle Ages (1066-1485) were much better times
 The (High) Middle Ages are commonly referred to as the medieval
 Idealized and romanticized Medieval era movies such as The Princess
Bride depict knights in shining armor, princesses ready to battle evil,
and constant sword fighting and jousting scenes.
 10th and 11th centuries saw greater stability come to the lands of
Western Europe. With the brief exception of the Mongol incursions,
major barbarian invasions had ceased.
 11th to 14th century saw an explosion in population.
 trade grew throughout Europe as the dangers of travel were reduced,
and steady economic growth resumed.
 The first universities were established in major European cities
 major advances are made in art, sculpture, music and architecture.
Large cathedrals in Romanesque and Gothic styles are built.
Major Events of the Middle Ages
William the Conqueror invades England and the Anglo-Saxons in
This conquest created a state lying on both sides of the English
Channel, which caused conflict later.
The Crusades (1095-1254)
A series of military campaigns conducted in the name of Christendom
and usually sanctioned by the Pope.
Military campaigns of a religious character characterized as being
waged against pagans, heretics, or Muslims.
The originally conceived aim was to recapture Jerusalem and the Holy
Land from the Muslims.
Terms for soldiers:
1. Participation or death during battle ensured forgiveness of sins.
2. Families were under the care of the church
3. If you took the vow then refused, you were excommunicated.
Richard I, the lionhearted (the one from the Robin Hood Stories) went
crusading and died in 1199.
The Magna Carta (1215)
Latin for “Great Charter”, literally “Great Paper”
Significant in leading to the rule of constitutional law.
Magna Carta required the king to renounce rights, respect legal
procedures and accept that the will of the king could be bound by law.
Almost all statements of laws have been influenced by it, including
the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The Black Death (Bubonic Plague)
Ravaged England during Chaucer’s childhood.
Symptoms are chills, fever, diarrhea, headaches, and the swelling of
the infected lymph nodes, and eventually black spots on the body.
Lymph nodes in neck, armpits, groin swell, bleed, ooze puss.
Killed approximately one third of the population of Eurasia, killing 75
estimated that 1.4 percent of England's population, totaling 4.2
million, died.
Carried by fleas on rats.
Changes in hygiene habits and public sanitation lowered the rate of
Hundred Years War
Conflict between England and France, lasting 116 years from 1337 to
Fought primarily over claims by the English kings to the French
Began when Edward III contested cousin Philip VI’s kingship.
New weapons and tactics eroded the older system of feudal armies
dominated by heavy cavalry.
Solidified the countries of France and England.
Wars of the Roses (1455-1485)
An intermittent civil war fought over the throne of England between
adherents of the House of Lancaster and the House of York.
Both houses traced their lineage to Edward III.
name Wars of the Roses was not used at the time, but has its origins in
the badges associated with the two royal houses, the Red Rose of
Lancaster and the White Rose of York.
Weakened the feudal power of the nobles and a correspondingly
strengthened the merchant classes.
Created a strong, centralized monarchy under the Tudors.
Heralded the end of the medieval period in England and the
movement towards the Renaissance.
Thomas à Becket
Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170.
Engaged in a conflict with King Henry II over the rights and
privileges of the Church.
Assassinated by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral.
Required to receive the Church’s blessing.
Wore robes of shaggy wool and round felt hats
Barefoot, uncut hair and beards
Cross worn or possibly branded to flesh
Canterbury was a common pilgrimage site.
Pilgrims often took home a flask of diluted blood from Becket as a
souvenir or “relic”.