Postclassical Era - Europe - Western

Western

After the fall of the classical western empires (in this case the Roman Empire), independent civilizations soon arose to fill the power vacuum. This was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages, a dark period lasting from around 400 CE to 900 CE and characterized by its stagnant culture, economy, and science as well as its declining population size. In 449, the British Isles were invaded by the Anglo-Saxons, who would fully control the region for the next six hundred years. Since 413, the Romans had lost control of the Franks, and the latter established Francia (also known as the Frankish Kingdom), a precursor to modern-day France. Once Clovis I of the Merovingian dynasty was crowned king of Francia in 481, he expanded the kingdom to much of France's current region (although it would quickly split amongst his sons). The Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal) was ruled by the Visigoths during this period, establishing the Visigothic Kingdom.

The first development of medieval Western Europe was the establishment of a new society with the creation of the manorial system. This meant that peasants called serfs would be bound to the land they farmed and have to pay tribute to aristocratic lords who owned the large regions these serfs inhabited. Serf farmers would use crop rotation, developing from a two-field system to a three-field system. Another major institution was the Catholic Church, a driving force in West European politics and the only immediate organization left after the fall of the Romans. Saint Benedict's book of precepts for monks, written in the early 6th century, was fundamental in establishing West European monasticism. A hierarchy was utilized that put the Pope at the head, followed by Bishops, and then Priests. The Church spread Christianity northward, and set up monasteries which improved education, cultivation, and spirituality amongst the peasantry and elite. By 597, missionaries arrived in England to convert pagans. Very little education or culture developed in the earlier centuries, with science and literature confined to Catholic monks who simply copied older manuscripts.

Power struggles began to shift in the 8th century. In 711, Umayyad Muslims conquer Iberia and establish the Moorish kingdom of Al-Andalus. By the late 700s Viking expansion appears. The migrations of Scandinavian merchants and pirates both prospered in and ravaged several parts of Europe in a period known as the Viking Age. While the raids of these so-called "barbarians" may have had destructive short-term effects, Vikings established ports and villages that would grow into towns and cities, catalyzing medieval urban life. In 768, Charlemagne of the Carolingian dynasty is crowned king of the Franks. An extremely adept ruler, he would gain large amounts of territory in Central Europe and Spain, unifying much of Western Europe. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne the first Emperor since the fall of Western Rome. Charlemagne helps found feudalism — a system where vassals serve lords and lords serve kings — and thus would allow smaller kingdoms to develop after his fall. The collapse and division of the Carolingians would lead to the Treaty of Verdun in 843, establishing West Francia which would quickly grow into the Kingdom of France; East Francia, which would become the Kingdom of Germany; and Middle Francia, which would divide into smaller kingdoms. In England, the gradual unification of various kingdoms into the Kingdom of England was completed in 927 by King Æthelstan. The mantle of the Holy Roman Empire would be taken up again with the crowning of the king of Germany Otto I as Holy Roman Emperor in 962.

The war-like nature and bloodline of the Vikings would also create great warriors of Europe. This would kick off the glorious High Middle Ages, a period of medieval prosperity from about 1000 to 1300. One of the most famous examples of these warriors was William the Conqueror of Normandy. William would go on to conquer England in 1066 and help establish a feudal kingdom there. With expansionist impulses running high, the Holy Roman Empire increased its territory from the Kingdom of Germany to the Polish region and the Kingdoms of Bohemia, Italy, and Burgundy by 1050. The sudden revival of Muslim invasions by the Seljuq Turks in Anatolia (now Turkey), caused Pope Urban II to launch the first of the Crusades in 1096. The Christian Reconquista of Iberia from the Muslim state Al-Andalus intensifies and the second and third crusades occur with failure and relative success, respectively. One major break in this line of monarchic successes, however, is the uprising of English barons against King John of England's fiscal policies and treatment of the nobility after an unsuccessful war against Normandy, resulting in the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, limiting the King's power and setting a precedent for years to come. Six more crusades would bring Muslim treasures, scientific advances, and other influences until the Ninth Crusade and the fall of Acre in 1272.

Then with arrival of year 1300, prosperity suddenly slowed. The Late Middle Ages began, marked by several hardships and tragedies from 1300 to 1500. The Western Schism of the Catholic church occurred around this time, caused by two men both claiming the title of pope in 1378. Although it was resolved in 1417, the scandal damaged the reputation of the papacy. The Hundred Years' War between England and France over territorial disputes in 1337, also started in this period and brought to fame Joan of Arc. The war would add to the many famines already occurring due to overpopulation. Epidemics also began to spread, including the infamous Black Death, which began to spread throughout Europe in 1347, as a direct result of increased trade between Europe and Asia due to the Mongol Empire's secured travel and their catapulting of infected corpses into besieged cities. Ships coming from the Crimea put into port at Messina, Sicily in early October 1347, bringing with them rats in their cargo. These rodents carried fleas infected with the bacillus Yersinia pestis in the form of the bubonic plague. The disease cut the European population by 30 to 60 percent — killing between 75 to 200 million people.

However, the aftermath of these issues would lead to a cultural and scientific revival, the Renaissance. The significantly decreased population from the black plague allowed for a greater relative supply of food for the people and higher wages for farmers, ending manorialism and popularizing the use of tenant farmers. Additionally, the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450 revolutionized communication. The Hundred Years' War ended in 1453 — its effects would lead to the War of the Roses in England. Maritime explorers like Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus would receive funding from Henry the Navigator and the newfound Spanish Empire respectively.


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    Sir Walter Raleigh might well be studied, if only for the excellence of his style, for he is remarkable in the midst of so many masters. There is a natural emphasis in his style, like a man’s tread, and a breathing space between the sentences, which the best of modern writing does not furnish. His chapters are like English parks, or say rather like a Western forest, where the larger growth keeps down the underwood, and one may ride on horseback through the openings.
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