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The Middle Ages


The Middle Ages is generally accepted to have begun in 1066 with the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England. It ended in 1485 with the death of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth.

In between these two dates was one of the most exciting and bloodthirsty periods in English history.

Some of the major events were the compiling of the Domesday Book, the signing of the Magna Carta, the Crusades, the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, the Black Death and the War of the Roses.

During this era Westminster Abbey was completed and Canterbury Cathedral was begun, both of which played a major part in English history right up to the present day.

During the early Middle Ages, England faced a period of great change under the reign of William the Conqueror and his son, William Rufus. The site where Harold II was shot in the eye and killed is marked by the now ruined Battle Abbey. The Bayeaux Tapestry tells the historic account in pictures and a copy of this unique record can be seen at the Museum of Reading.

Another important document which tells a great deal about England at that time is the 11th century Domesday Book, which gives us a great deal of data about that period.

Many castles which can still be seen today date back to the Middle Ages including Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. Old Sarum was also developed as a defensive compound which later became Salisbury. The extensive earthworks can still be seen on the original site today.

From 1307 onwards the period is known as the Late Middle Ages. It saw Robert the Bruce crowned King of Scotland after years of conflict, but the Hundred Years War with France began when Edward III laid claim to the French throne.

These events did not affect the population as much as the bubonic plague, which began in 1348 and decimated almost half the population of England.

This was followed the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 as workers protested against the poll tax, injustice and inequality.

Life at this time was very hard and physical and life expectancy was just 35 years. Most people at this time lived in small hamlets and villages scattered throughout Britain. They were mainly farmers, although the mining of coal, tin and lead took place along with fishing.

York was one town which dates back to the Middle Ages and even earlier and it has several interesting places to visit from this period. York Minster was built in the 13th century. The medieval city walls are still well preserved and the stone-built Clifford’s Tower was built in the late 13th century to replace the earlier wooden keep.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, Britain became more urbanized. This period was known as the English Renaissance, which began in earnest during the reign of Henry VIII.

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