The period of medieval England spans from the 5th century to the end of 15th century. During the Roman Empire, England was part of one of the Empire’s provinces. However, with the collapse of the Roman Empire, England grew weak and the economy collapsed.
For many following centuries, Germanic tribes kept migrating into England which led to settlements and small kingdoms being formed. During this period, the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy emerged.
During the 8th and 9th centuries, England had to withstand many fierce attacks of the Vikings. The Norman conquest of England came in the 11th century which radically reshaped the aristocratic hierarchy and economy of the country.
Medieval England Timeline
The history of medieval England began with the collapse of the Roman Empire towards the end of the 4th century. From the 5th century onward, Germanic tribes started migrating to England.
By the 7th century, an Anglo-Saxon aristocratic class had come into being, numerous kingdoms in England were created and Christianity was accepted by the Anglo-Saxons, leading to its vast influence all over England.
Viking attacks ravaged England in 8th and 9th centuries followed by Danish invasions in the 11th century. In 1066, the Norman invasion of England put William the Conqueror on the English throne and the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy was effectively replaced by Norman-French nobility which also introduced feudalism to Medieval England.
Over the 12th and 13th centuries, England prospered economically despite repeated fights between the deposed Anglo-Saxons and the Norman-French rulers. In the 14th century, the Black Death and widespread famine eliminated half of England’s population and caused social unrest and disorder. During this period, a new nobility of rich middle-class people arose which began to exert its influence.
Medieval England was home to many functional medieval villages, towns and cities.
Life in Medieval England
Life in medieval England centered around towns and villages. Towns were few, however, and more than 90% of the populace lived in the countryside. Agriculture was the backbone of countryside life and the yield was poor, so huge areas of land had to be cultivated.
The only way to increase yield was to cultivate more land, which was done by removing forests and turning vast swathes of rough land into arable areas. Towns primarily served as commercial centers for agricultural produce.
Medieval England & Feudalism
Feudalism in England began as a prevalent social hierarchical mode with the Norman invasion and the in-statement of Norman-French nobility. Under feudalism, slavery was abolished in most parts of England and replaced mostly with bonded labourers called serfs.
The King granted lands to noble who paid homage and promised loyalty. These nobles further gave land to landowners who, in turn, gave the land to the peasants. Peasants had to provide labour in return for holding land. Peasants also paid 10% of their produce to the parish.
Bodiam castle is a stunning medieval castle that was built in medieval England
Medieval England Castles
Castles began to be constructed in England during the 1050s. When the Norman conquerors invaded England, there was a need for kings to guard their territories. This led to the construction of many new castles during the 11th century. Initial castles constructed during this time were of the motte and bailey and ringwork category.
By the 12th century, Norman nobility began building castles to look over its vast estates, to guard itself against rivals and often to serve as garrisons. Royal castles were usually built near major towns. Among the notable castles built in medieval England are the Tower of London, Warwick Castle, Dover Castle, Alnwick Castle, Hedinghan Castle, Orford Castle and Berkley Castle.
Medieval England Knights
In medieval England, knights came under the lords in the feudal hierarchy. Knights were selected by the lords, trained under their supervision and eventually fought alongside the lords. By 12th century, tournaments were being held for competitions between knights. In such tournaments, jousting contests were popular.
A Typical Knight in Medieval England
Medieval England Kings & Queens
From the 9th century to Norman invasion in the 11th century, the kingship of England shifted between the House of Wessex, marked by Anglo-Saxon kings, and the House of Denmark, which started contesting Kingship successfully in intermittent periods of the beginning of 11th century.
In the 11th century, William The Conqueror led a Norman invasion of England and became King. After him, both his sons William II and Henry I became kings, one after the other. Henry I was followed by Stephen of the House of Blois.
Next in line was Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I and the only queen who ruled England during the medieval age.
Medieval England Peasants & Slaves
Slavery in medieval England was abolished after the Norman invasion in 1066. However, the practice lingered on in the North of the country where it came to an end much later. Meanwhile, slaves were replaced by bonded labourers called serfs.
These ultimately led to a peasant class, no longer bonded but free and holding land, but still obliged to pay their respective lord with labour and tax. Peasants had to pay taxes to the Church as well. This tax equated to 10% of the produce made and was called a tithe. Most peasants lived in cruck houses.
Medieval England Clothing
The dress of the male Anglo-Saxons in the early medieval period comprised of tunic, cloak, trousers and leggings. Shoes made of leather were used for the feet. By the 11th century, cloaks had grown shorter and flat round caps gained traction among the males.
In the same century, short boots were introduced. In the 12th century, the male tunic came to be worn with a skirt and all classes began wearing boots or shoes. In 13th century, linen braies were worn which eventually shortened to become drawers.
Hoods were also worn during the later medieval period. Female dress during the early medieval period comprised of a long, loose dress which was fastened using brooches. A kind of shift was used as underclothes. Changes occurred in later medieval period when dresses became tighter with lower necklines. Corset, surcoat and skirt became a part of the dress. Other dressing items included scarves and bonnets.
Medieval England Music & Songs
Medieval music in England comprised of both ecclesiastical music and secular music. Ecclesiastical music shifted from plainchant to Celtic chant in the 8th century and into Gregorian chant in the 11th century. Other religious music included votive antiphons.
Non-religious tradition in England has very early origins and songs were often sung at feasts. The types of music which existed in medieval England include rotas, carols and ballads.
Medieval England led the way with freedom and democracy with the first parliaments
Medieval England Customs
Marriage customs in England were different from Europe at large in that there was no tradition of marrying adolescents. The marrying age in medieval England varied between late teens and the twenties, depending upon the economic circumstances.
In aristocratic customs, the number of days offered as labour to the landowner by peasants depended upon local customs.
Medieval England Summary
Medieval England assimilated the influences of a Roman legacy, Germanic tribalism through Anglo-Saxons, Christianity and Norman culture. Slavery came to be abolished with the beginning of feudalism and significant economic growth took place between the Norman invasion of 11th century and the Black Plague and Great Famine in the 14th century.