The High Middle Ages is the name given to the second period of Middle Ages study. In a way, it’s the middle Middle Ages! Most of what we know about the Middle Ages comes from this period, which ran from the beginning of the 11th century (1000 AD) to the year 1300 AD.
Unlike the Early Middle Ages, which was defined mostly by how little we know about it, a great number of significant historical events occurred during the High Middle Ages.
The High Middle Ages are also the period in which medieval culture began to blossom. After the Dark Ages came to an end, there was an “intellectual renaissance” around 1100 AD.
This intellectual renaissance (or revolution) saw important developments in education, art, and architecture. Many of Europe’s most famous castles and cathedrals were built at this time, along with universities like those in Paris and Oxford.
Society during the High Middle Ages was based on the system of feudalism. If you’ve ever seen a movie set during the Middle Ages, it’s probably based around feudalism in one way or another! Feudalism was a political system in which the nobility (or ruling class) held land from the crown in exchange for pledging military service.
The nobility would then employ peasants to work their land, in exchange for money, food, and the promise to fight in their name should a war ever begin.
The majority of the population in a feudalist society were peasants, or as they were known at the time, serfs. Serfs worked a nobleman’s land in exchange for protection and a piece of land to call their own, but were extremely poor most of the time.
The majority of the crops they grew and animals they reared were handed over to the nobleman – a serf was only allowed to keep enough to feed their family, and never profited from their labor. Noblemen and women lived lives of luxury.
They would be educated and taught the art of business and trade. Noblemen were the main consumers of literature and music, because serfs didn’t have access to them.
Although the spread of Christianity began in the Early Middle Ages, it was only during the High Middle Ages that Europe became fully “Christianized.” By the end of the 11th century, nearly every country in Europe had a Christian/Catholic ruler, and peasants followed the religion by order of law.
The Church’s power was supreme during this period. The Pope was the most important global figure of the High Middle Ages, and made a huge profit in tax from the public.
The wealth of the Church in the Middle Ages can be seen in the huge architectural works constructed in its name; many Romanesque structures and Gothic churches (e.g., Montmartre and the Notre Dame) were built to honor the Catholic faith in this period. Most of these still exist today.
The Church was also responsible for the Crusades during the High Middle Ages. The Crusades were, simply put, a “holy war” against all nonbelievers, particularly those in Eastern Europe and Asia. The Crusades began in response to a war between the Byzantine Emperor and the people of Turkey.
The Crusaders aided in this war, and then decided to make a pilgrimage to the “Holy Land” of Christianity, AKA the city of Jerusalem. Thousands of Jews and Muslims were killed along the way to the city, and even more were executed upon arrival.
The High Middle Ages were a time of tremendous growth in Europe. The foundations of Europe as we know it today were formed in this period. Countries like England, France, Germany, and Russia were founded in this time, and became the economic powerhouses of the continent a short time afterward.
Most European capital cities were funded and built in this time; London, Paris and even Rome experienced heavy renovation during this period. Trade between cities in Europe was also established in this period, and a new class of merchants and craftsmen dedicated to this form of commerce were established.
– 1000-1300 AD.
– The Crusades.
– Most people in a feudalist society were serfs/peasants.
– Oxford/University of Paris.
– 1100 AD.