The Normans brought a different type of government to England.
After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror, the new king, distributed lands to powerful Norman Barons. These lands were no longer owned but 'held' (looked after) for someone more powerful. More
In return for land, barons provided knights to fight for the king.
A small number of very powerful barons 'held' very large areas of land for the King. In return for this land, these nobles were obliged to provide able-bodied soldiers to fight for the king when required. More
Local power came to rest with the lord of the Manor.
The barons gave knights land of their own to "hold" in exchange for military service, so that the knights could pay for their own upkeep. They came to form a new upper class, not so wealthy and important as the barons, but very much 'lords' in their own villages. More
The people who actually farmed the land were peasants or serfs.
They would work a strip of land or maybe several strips. This is why medieval farming is known today as strip farming. Some of these farmers were free, but many were serfs, "tied" to a particular village - that is, they could not leave the village without the permission of the lord who owned it. More
In return for land used to grow their own food, the serfs had to work for the lord of the manor.
As well as farming their own land, each serf had to work a fixed number of days per year on land owned by the lord and his family. More
Medieval society was sometimes a violent one.
The huge fortresses that we call 'castles' still remind us of the power of the kings and barons who built them. The kings and barons were often at war, either against foreign kings, or against neighbouring barons, or even against their own king, as they were often rebelling. More
In Medieval England, the church had great power over people's lives.
Everyone was a member of the church and believed it to be right. If they did not attend church they could be punished or face heavy fines. There was a church in every village or community. However, the head of the church, the Pope, lived, not in England, but in Rome. More
The Domesday Book recorded the results of a great survey of England.
To defend his kingdom and pay for his armies, William the Conqueror needed to know what financial and military resources were available to him. In 1085, he sent men all over England to each shire, to find out what or how much each landholder held in land and livestock, and its value. The Survey was completed in 1086. More
The Medieval period was the time of the Crusades.
The Crusades began in 1095, with the aim of taking back Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim rule. In the end they failed, and they ended in 1291 when the last of the Christian fortresses fell to Muslim forces. More
In 1215, the Magna Carta was signed.
King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta (Latin for "Great Charter"), after a large number of barons had taken up arms (fought) against him. The Magna Carta stated that the King must agree to certain laws and realise that these laws were for everyone to keep, including himself. More
There were a number of wars fought during the period.
There was civil war in the 12th century and, later, the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) was a series of battles for the French throne. The 'House of Valois' in France claimed the title of King of France and fought against the Plantagenet Kings in England, who also claimed the French throne. More
The life of the peasants and serfs was a hard one.
However, there were many days in the year given over to religion or entertainment. Each Sunday was a free day and was an opportunity for some relaxation and fun, although everyone attended church at least once each Sunday. There were also many church festivals - such as Easter, All Saints Day and Christmas - which were holidays ("holy days"). More
Public entertainment included cockfighting, bear baiting and, for the rich, jousting.
During winter evenings, people passed the time by playing indoor board games, including some similar to chess, draughts and backgammon. Women and girls would spin, weave cloth and embroider. Wealthy families would listen to professional storytellers, minstrels or harpists. More
Many peasants would not ever leave their village throughout their entire lives.
For many more, the local market town was as far as they travelled. These towns were tiny but often busy places, which grew over time. Towns had their weekly markets and, once or twice a year, they would have a fair - a large market lasting a whole week. More
The life of the town was dominated by its guilds.
These were associations of master craftsmen and merchants. They made rules about the economic and social life of their members, and their leaders governed the affairs of the town. To be a member of such a guild was to have "made it" in town society, and you could then go on to become a town councillor or even mayor. More
Many major towns were built by rivers and the largest were sometimes surrounded by stone walls.
However, not all of the area within these walls was built up. Many town houses had plots attached to them, on which the owners could grow vegetables and keep some animals. Most towns also had stretches of common ground, on which poorer townsmen could keep animals. More
There was no formal police force, although each parish had a village constable, but penalties for crime were harsh.
It was believed that people only behaved well, if they were afraid of what would happen to them if they did not behave. Even the 'smallest' wrongdoings had serious punishments. More
The Church was, after the royal court, the wealthiest organisation in the country.
Not only did it own a huge amount of land, it also received a tax called the ‘tithe' - one tenth of the crops grown by the people. It was this wealth which paid for the building of the great cathedrals. More
Monasteries gave important help to the rest of society.
They looked after the sick and the poor, and acted as schools and centres of learning. Not only did monks teach the children of local families, they also preserved knowledge by making copies of the books in their libraries by hand (printing was not invented until the very end of the period). More
Change came slowly in the medieval world, but it did come.
Castles and knights became less important after weapons were made that could destroy them (cannons that could blow holes in even the toughest walls). The end of the period saw the peasants gaining more power over their own lives and the beginning of the Renaissance movement and a blossoming of art and science. More
The period saw both the growth of trade and the development of Parliament.
Towns grew larger, wealthier and more important. The merchants of the towns became richer as England's trade expanded. Kings found themselves having to discuss matters with representatives from the towns. From these consultations, Parliament developed. More
Rich medieval houses were designed to show off the wealth of the owners.
There were no chimneys and the fireplace was in the middle of the hall. Smoke escaped by way of louvres (slats which let the smoke through) in the roof. In the 14th and15th centuries, windows grew in size, showing that people felt safer. More
The great hall was the most important room in a rich person's house.
It was a place of trade and feasting. It rose all the way up to the roof of the building, where louvres let out the smoke from the fire. However, this meant that it was not possible to build upstairs rooms. Poor people generally lived in one or two rooms with few possesions. They sometimes covered their windows with strips of linen soaked in linseed oil. More
By the end of the Medieval period, families had become more private.
As the use of chimneys developed, people were able to put another storey (upstairs floor) in their house, over the great hall, and the houses of people who were well-off became divided into more rooms. The communal life of the hall declined. More
The Black Death (a plague that killed over a third of the population) brought about more change.
With the loss of so many lives, there was land to spare and the lords needed farmers to work it. They were forced to pay higher wages and the ordinary peasant was quite a lot better off than before. The Peasants' Revolt, in 1381, also led to calls for the reform of feudalism in England. More
The period ended with the Wars of the Roses and the eventual victory of the house of Tudor.
The period ended with a bitter thirty year struggle for the English throne, between two branches of the Royal family, the House of York and the House of Lancaster. They were both descended from Edward III. This struggle, which began in May 1455, has become known as The Wars of the Roses. More