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Timeline for the Middle Ages
from 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D.

Ten historically important events which took place during the thousand years or so that make up the period we refer to as the Middle Ages are listed below.
  • 520 St. Benedict established the first monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy.  He drew up a set of rules for the monks, which included vows of obedience, poverty and manual labor.

  • 800 Charlemagne was crowned ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.  This act symbolized a union of church and state.

  • 1066 William invaded and conquered England.  He defeated King Harold who was killed at the battle of Hastings.  William brought feudalism and culture from France to England.

  • 1096 First Crusade began.  The Crusaders were armies of Christians from all over Europe who marched to the Holy Land to regain lands captured by the Turks.  The First Crusaders took the city of Jerusalem but paid a very heavy price in lives.

  • 1147 Second Crusade was launched.  This Crusade is generally considered to have been a failure.

  • 1189 Third Crusade was one of the more successful.  In it King Richard the Lion-Hearted obtained certain privileges for Christians from the Turkish ruler, Saladin.

  • 1202 Forth Crusade launched.  In this Crusade the original purpose of the Crusades was abandoned, and the Crusaders burned and sacked many cities and villages on their route.  They never reached the Holy Land.

  • 1215 King John of England was forced to sign the Magna Carta.  The Magna Carta gave some basic rights to the people and also said that the king was not above the law.

  • 1291 Fall of Acre marked the end of the Crusades.  Acre, the last Christian city in the Near East, was lost to the Turks.

  • 1348 The black plague swept England and Europe.  It was estimated that one out of every five people in England died.  Spread by fleas which infested a huge rat population, the disease is characterized by the victim turning dark purple in the last hours of life due to respiratory failure, hence the name, black plague.


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Charlemagne was a great man in history and in stature.  He stood six feet four inches tall, which was an unusually great height for a man of his time.  He was also powerfully built with large shoulders and chest.  His massive build was made more curious by the fact that he was the son a ruler called Pepin the Short, King of the Franks.  When Charlemagne succeeded his father, he extended his kingdom to include not only all of present-day France but much of Germany and parts of Italy, Bavaria and Spain.  The lands became known as the Holy Roman Empire, and Charlemagne was crowned emperor.
    Charlemagne was well educated in both Latin and Greek and showed great interest in the preservation and spread of knowledge; he considered himself guardian of the Christian faith and spread Christianity to the many lands he conquered.  At the same time he promoted education, art, commerce and farming.  He also established a system of law and order.
    After Charlemagne's death, his son, Louis the Pious, was unable to hold the empire together.  Louis's three sons at the Treaty of Verdun in 843 A.D. further divided the kingdom into three parts, one part for each.  This division gave rise to many wars between France and Germany which were to continue for centuries.  With no strong central power to look to for protection, free men began to go to their local lords for aid, thus paving the way for the system called feudalism.

The Battle of Hastings

The year 1066 is one of the most famous dates in history.  It was in the spring of that year a French duke, William of Normandy, began his preparation for the conquest of England.  Because William was a cousin of a former king of England and because he was married to an English noblewoman, Matilda of Flanders, he felt he had a just claim to the English throne.  When September came, William felt his troops were ready.  In crowded longboats filled with men, horses and armor, the Normans crossed the channel and landed on the shores of England.
    King Harold, leader of the English, had been alerted by his scouts weeks beforehand.  He gathered his troops and took his position at the top of a hill, near a twisted apple tree.  From there he commanded his men to build a defense of tree trunks and branches.  From the top of the hill, he flew his standards, one a dragon and the other the gold embroidered figure of a fighting man.  His army, which consisted of row after row of warriors armed with double-edged axes, settled themselves on the hillside.
    William also had scouts, and they were eagerly waiting for him when he landed to inform him of Harold's position.  Duke William rested his men several weeks until he was sure the were ready before advancing toward the English.  Early on October 14th, William ordered his troops forward.  When the Norman troops were about a mile away in their march to do battle, they stopped to put on their coats of mail and make their final preparations.  The Normans, who were used to fighting on horseback, call themselves chevaliers, from the French word cheval, meaning horse.  The chevaliers were their main striking force composed of knights and other men called sergeants, who were soldiers on horseback.  They also had foot soldiers armed with bows and arrows to protect the men on horseback.  The English did not battle on horseback; their forces were composed mainly of foot soldiers armed with spears and axes.
    The battle too place on October 14, 1066.  William and his Norman knights charged bravely up the hill.  King Harold's men struck back with heavy blows against them and their horses.  Wielding their large double-edged axes, Harold's forces turned back the Norman attacks again and again.  Casualties were so heavy it was written that the hill was slick with blood, but both sides fought on.  Two of Harold's brothers were slain; still he ordered his men to hold their ground.  Exhausted as they were, the Saxons found courage in their standards flying in the wind and their king urging them on.  Leading his men, King Harold was suddenly struck in the face by an arrow.  The wound put out his eye and he fell to the ground in pain.  Shortly thereafter, the disheartened English began to break ranks and flee into the surrounding woods.  The Normans soon broke through their lines and Harold was slain.  The dragon and the fighting man were cut down.  Without their leader, their standards, their hope, the rest of the Saxons ran for their lives.  The Battle of Hastings was over; the Normans had won.
    William was crowned King of England on Christmas Day in Westminster Abbey.  He spent much of his remaining life crushing revolts against him and waging military campaigns.  William the Conqueror, as he became known, died in 1087 at the age of fifty near Mantes, France.  He died as he had spent much of his life, fighting, but unlike King Harold, not from a wound of an arrow or an ax; William was killed when his horse fell and crushed him.

King John and the Magna Carta

John was the youngest and favorite son of King Henry II of England.  When he was born his father called him John Lackland, as his older brothers had already been given large lands to rule and there was little left for John.  Unfortunately, John grew up to be a selfish and arrogant man.  It is thought that John broke his father's heart when he secretly joined with his older brothers in a plan to take the throne away from Henry II.  After Henry's death, John's older brother, Richard, became king.  Richard, who had no sons of his own, named his nephew, Arthur, to be his heir in place of the wicked John.  It is generally believed that John had Arthur murdered, giving him clear claim to the throne.  When John became king he increased taxation and his royal powers.  These acts along with his wicked ways so angered the barons that they rebelled against John.  The barons demanded for themselves and their vassals rights that gave them certain liberties and ensured them a trial by jury.  They also said that the king himself was not above the law.  John was forced to sign this charter which became known as the Magna Carta in June 1215 at Runnymede, a field outside of London.  King John died a year later reportedly after overindulging in a meal of peaches and beer.

The Perfect Knight

Richard I was the third son of Henry II of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine.  As his mother's favorite, he was raised according to her ideals of a perfect knight.  At the age of eleven he was given the duchy of Aquitaine, his mother's inheritance.  As a young man he distinguished himself in military tactics and knightly skills.  That he was courageous beyond belief and a true leader of men there could be no doubt, and for these reasons he was called Richard Coeur de Lion, or Richard the Lion-Hearted.  For his heroism he was widely praised in the ballads sung by troubadours of his time.
    After his brother's death, Richard became heir to the throne of England.  Unfortunately Henry II had a favorite son also; it was Richard's younger brother, John.  It was Henry's wish to bypass Richard and leave the throne to John.  Richard joined forces with Phillip II, King of France, against his father and eventually forced Henry to recognize him as his heir.
    After Richard was crowned monarch, he became interested in the Crusades and proved himself to be the ablest leader of the Third Crusade.  In this Crusade he was able to obtain certain rights for Christians from the Turkish ruler, Saladin.  Returning from the Holy Land, Richard was captured.  He was later released for a very large ransom.
    Richard spent the last five years of his life warring against his once ally, Phillip II of France.  Over and over again Richard proved to be a better warrior.  It was however during a truce with Phillip that Richard was mortally wounded.  A young peasant, standing on a castle wall and using a frying pan for a shield, spotted Richard talking to his knights below.  He aimed his crossbow and expertly released the arrow striking Richard in the back.  The archer was promptly captured and brought to the dying king.  "What harm have I done to you that you have killed me?" Richard asked.  "You once slew my father and my brother.  Take what revenge you like," answered the proud young man. "Go in peace." Richard gave the command to release the prisoner, and in death as so many times in life, he showed himself to be the "perfect knight."  Richard, at his own request, was buried at the feet of his father, with whom he had so often quarreled.

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