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The Middle Ages: Myth and Reality. The Middle Ages: The Myth. We think of knights in shining armor, lavish banquets, wandering minstrels, kings, queens, bishops, monks, pilgrims, and glorious pageantry. In film and in literature, medieval life seems heroic, entertaining, and romantic.

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the middle ages the myth
The Middle Ages: The Myth
  • We think of knights in shining armor, lavish banquets, wandering minstrels, kings, queens, bishops, monks, pilgrims, and glorious pageantry.
  • In film and in literature, medieval life seems heroic, entertaining, and romantic.
the middle ages the reality
The Middle Ages: The Reality
  • In reality, life in the Middle Ages, a period that extended from approximately the 5th century to the 15th century in Western Europe, could also be harsh, uncertain, and dangerous.
the lord of the manor
The Lord of the Manor
  • For safety and defense, people in the Middle Ages formed small communities around a central lord or master.
the manor
The Manor
  • Most people lived on a manor, which consisted of the castle (or manor house), the church, the village, and the surrounding farm land.
self sufficiency
  • Each manor was largely self-sufficient, growing or producing all of the basic items needed for food, clothing, and shelter.
  • To meet these needs, the manor had buildings devoted to special purposes, such as:
    • The mill for grinding grain
    • The bake house for making bread
    • The blacksmith shop for creating metal goods.
  • These manors were isolated, with occasional visits from peddlers, pilgrims on their way to the Crusades, or soldiers from other fiefdoms.
the feudal system
The Feudal System
  • Under the feudal system, the king awarded land grants or fiefs to his most important nobles, barons, and bishops, in return for their contribution of soldiers for the king's armies.
nobles and vassals
Nobles and Vassals
  • Nobles divided their land among the lesser nobility, who became their vassals. Many of these vassals became so powerful that the kings had difficulty controlling them.
  • Code of Chivalry
  • Charlemagne- Holy Roman Emperor
  • Eleanor of Acquitaine-troubadours
  • Hugh Capet
  • Normans & Anglo-Saxons
  • Danish Vikings, Alfred the Great
  • Norman Conquest, William
  • Domesday Book
Germany-936 Otto the Great unites Germany, Holy Roman Emperor
  • Spain & Portugal- trouble with Muslims, the Moors
  • Reconquista to reclaim for Christians
the magna carta
The Magna Carta
  • In 1215, the English barons formed an alliance that forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. It limited the king's powers of taxation and required trials by jury. It was the first time that an English monarch was subject to the law.
the peasants
The Peasants
  • At the lowest level of society were the peasants, also called serfs or villeins.
  • The lord offered his peasants protection in exchange for living and working on his land.


Cooperation and Mutual Obligations

  • Agriculture the basis for wealth
  • Lands divided up into self-sufficient manors
  • Peasants (serfs) worked the land and paid rent In exchange for protection
  • Barter the usual form of exchange
  • Decentralized, local government
  • Dependent upon the relationship between members of the nobility
  • Lord and his vassals administered justice and were the highest authority in their land


Fief and Peasants

Fief and Peasants

Military Aid



Food Protection Shelter

Food Protection Shelter

Military Service



Food Protection Shelter

Pay Rent

Farm the Land


women household chores
Women: Household Chores
  • Whether they were nobles or peasants, women held a difficult position in society.
  • They were largely confined to household tasks such as cooking, baking bread, sewing, weaving, and spinning.
hunting fighting
Hunting & Fighting
  • However, they also hunted for food and fought in battles, learning to use weapons to defend their homes and castles.
other occupations
Other Occupations
  • Some medieval women held other occupations. There were women blacksmiths, merchants, and apothecaries.
midwives farmers artists
Midwives, Farmers, & Artists
  • Others were midwives, worked in the fields, or were engaged in creative endeavors such as writing, playing musical instruments, dancing, and painting.
witches nuns
Witches & Nuns
  • Some women were known as witches, capable of sorcery and healing. Others became nuns and devoted their lives to God and spiritual matters.
the catholic church
The Catholic Church
  • The Catholic Church was the only church in Europe during the Middle Ages, and it had its own laws and large income.
  • Church leaders such as bishops and archbishops sat on the king's council and played leading roles in government.
  • Some Popes had enough authority to summon nobles and kings to councils
  • Leo IX (anti simony-selling offices), excommunicates, Patriarch excommuication splits church in two
  • Launch Crusades
  • Supremacy over Kings (Gregory & Henry IV)
  • Bishops, who were often wealthy and came from noble families, ruled over groups of parishes called dioceses.
parish priests
Parish Priests
  • Parish priests, on the other hand, came from humbler backgrounds and often had little education.
  • The village priest tended to the sick and indigent and, if he was able, taught Latin and the Bible to the youth of the village
  • Monasteries in the Middle Ages were based on the rules set down by St. Benedict in the sixth century. The monks became known as Benedictines and took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to their leaders.
  • Monks were required to perform manual labor and were forbidden to own property, leave the monastery, or become entangled in the concerns of society.
  • Daily tasks were often carried out in silence.
  • Monks and their female counterparts, nuns, who lived in convents, provided for the less-fortunate members of the community. Monasteries and nunneries were safe havens for pilgrims and other travelers.
  • Between prayers, the monks read or copied religious texts and music. Monks were often well educated and devoted their lives to writing and learning.
  • Pilgrimages were an important part of religious life in the Middle Ages. Many people took journeys to visit holy shrines such the Canterbury Cathedral in England and sites in Jerusalem and Rome.
the canterbury tales
The Canterbury Tales
  • Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is a series of stories told by 30 pilgrims as they traveled to Canterbury.
religious crises
Religious Crises
  • Heresy: beliefs that oppose the official teachings of the Church
  • Inquisition to fight heresy, abuses
  • Development of additional orders to combat- Francis of Assisi and Dominic of Osma-friars live amongst people instead of separate
  • Arguments over who should be pope lead to Schism- 2 Popes, Rome & Avignon
  • Most medieval homes were cold, damp, and dark. Sometimes it was warmer and lighter outside the home than within its walls.
peasants homes
Peasants Homes
  • Many peasant families ate, slept, and spent time together in very small quarters, rarely more than one or two rooms. The houses had thatched roofs and were easily destroyed.
homes of the wealthy
Homes of the Wealthy
  • The homes of the rich were more elaborate than the peasants' homes. Their floors were paved, as opposed to being strewn with rushes and herbs, and sometimes decorated with tiles. Tapestries were hung on the walls, providing not only decoration but also an extra layer of warmth.
the kitchens of peasant homes
The Kitchens of Peasant Homes
  • In simpler homes where there were no chimneys, the medieval kitchen consisted of a stone hearth in the center of the room. This was not only where the cooking took place, but also the source of central heating.
the peasant diet
The Peasant Diet
  • In peasant families, the wife did the cooking and baking. The peasant diet consisted of breads, vegetables from their own gardens, dairy products from their own sheep, goats, and cows, and pork from their own livestock.
the kitchens of manor houses
The Kitchens of Manor Houses
  • The kitchens of manor houses and castles had big fireplaces where meat, even large oxen, could be roasted on spits. These kitchens were usually in separate buildings, to minimize the threat of fire.
clothing of the wealthy
Clothing of the Wealthy
  • The clothing of the aristocracy and wealthy merchants tended to be elaborate and changed according to the dictates of fashion. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, men of the wealthy classes sported hose and a jacket, often with pleating or skirting, or a tunic with a surcoat.
women s clothing
Women’s Clothing

Women wore flowing gowns and elaborate headwear, ranging from headdresses shaped like hearts or butterflies to tall steeple caps and Italian turbans.

peasant clothing
Peasant Clothing
  • Peasant men wore stockings and tunics, while women wore long gowns with sleeveless tunics and wimples to cover their hair. Sheepskin cloaks and woolen hats and mittens were worn in winter for protection from the cold and rain..
health hygiene
Health & Hygiene
  • As the populations of medieval towns and cities increased, hygienic conditions worsened, leading to a vast array of health problems.
  • Medical knowledge was limited and, despite the efforts of medical practitioners and public and religious institutions to institute regulations, medieval Europe did not have an adequate health care system
  • Many medieval medical manuscripts contained recipes for remedies that called for hundreds of therapeutic substances.
  • Believed that disease could be the result of sinful behavior.
  • Blood letting by the surgeon.
black death
Black Death
  • 1347-1351 Sweep the Continent
  • Mongol armies first, merchants carry
  • Up to 1/3 population dies in Europe
  • Effects: 1. role of the Church/God
  • 2.anti-Semitic backlash
  • 3. lower population-ends manorial system, survivor want higher wages, move from land
arts entertainment
Arts & Entertainment
  • Art and music were critical aspects of medieval religious life and, towards the end of the Middle Ages, secular life as well. Singing without instrumental accompaniment was an essential part of church services. Monks and priests chanted the divine offices and the mass daily.
  • Medieval drama grew out of the liturgy, beginning in about the eleventh century. Some of the topics were from the Old Testament and others were stories about the birth and death of Christ.
town life
Town Life
  • After 1000, peace and order grew. As a result, peasants began to expand their farms and villages further into the countryside. The earliest merchants were peddlers who went from village to village selling their goods.
  • As the demand for goods increased--particularly for the gems, silks, and other luxuries from Genoa and Venice, the ports of Italy that traded with the East--the peddlers became more familiar with complex issues of trade, commerce, accounting, and contracts.
  • They became savvy businessmen and learned to deal with Italian moneylenders and bankers. The English, Belgians, Germans, and Dutch took their coal, timber, wood, iron, copper, and lead to the south and came back with luxury items such as wine and olive oil.
  • With the advent of trade and commerce, feudal life declined. As the tradesmen became wealthier, they resented having to give their profits to their lords.
  • Arrangements were made for the townspeople to pay a fixed annual sum to the lord or king and gain independence for their town as a "borough" with the power to govern itself. The marketplace became the focus of many towns.
  • Guilds were established to gain higher wages for their members and protect them from competitors. As the guilds grew rich and powerful, they built guildhalls and began taking an active role in civic affairs, setting up courts to settle disputes and punish wrongdoers.
the merchant class
The Merchant Class
  • The new merchant class included artisans, masons, armorers, bakers, shoemakers, ropemakers, dyers, and other skilled workers.
  • Of all the craftsmen, the masons were the highest paid and most respected. They were, after all, responsible for building the cathedrals, hospitals, universities, castles, and guildhalls.
  • Masons learned their craft as apprentices to a master mason, living at lodges for up to seven years. The master mason was essentially an architect, a general contractor, and a teacher.
the first companies
The First Companies
  • The population of cities swelled for the first time since before the Dark Ages. With the new merchant activity, companies were formed. Merchants hired bookkeepers, scribes, and clerks, creating new jobs.
the printing press
The Printing Press
  • Printing began in 1450 with the publication of the Bible by Johannes Gutenberg. This revolutionized the spread of learning. Other inventions of the time included mechanical clocks, tower mills, and guns.
  • Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales
  • Dante Alighieri: The Divine Comedy
  • Religious texts: Hildegard of Bingen poet
  • Thomas Aquinas: at University of Paris, Scholasticism- Christian teachings also knowable and provable through the use of logic and reason
  • Epic poems: The Song of Roland-chivalry & troubadours
visual arts
Visual Arts
  • Architecture: Gothis style, flying buttress-supports walls from outside raises ceilings
  • Stained glass windows
  • Lavish outside decorations
  • Illuminated texts
  • Tapestry
  • Develop in growing cities
  • Charlemagne early supporter
  • Men, studying liberal arts
  • Not strictly tied to a campus
urban life
Urban Life
  • Few serfs were left in Europe by the end of the Middle Ages, and the growing burgher class became very powerful. Hard work and enterprise led to economic prosperity and a new social order. Urban life brought with it a new freedom for individuals. 
  • Crusades- Pope Urban II calls for Christian nations to put aside their differences to reclaim the Holy Land from Turks
  • Nine Crusades-First Crusade reclaims Jerusalem
  • Third- Saladin v. Richard the Lionhearted
  • Economic Effects: trade, Social Effects: knowledge, persecutions,Political Effects: death of nobles increases power of kings

Hundred Years Wars-English/French, Joan of Arc solidifies nationalism in France, military technology

  • War of the Roses- battle between York and Lancastrian families for English crown
  • Adapted from the Annenberg Media/ website “The Middle Ages”