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u Valentina-Alexandra
Remus Bejan
Civilizaie englez

The Monarchy vs. the Church

in Medieval England
European history states that the Medieval period began in the 5th
century and lasted to the 15th century. In Western history, The Middle
Ages is preceded by the Antiquity and followed by the Modern period
and it is also subdivided into the Early, the High, and the Late Middle
Ages. The collapse of Roman authority brought about the end of formal
Christian religion in the east of what is now England as AngloSaxon invaders took control of large sections of the island.
The Early Middle Ages was witness to lots of changes including
the barbarian invaders and the formation of new kingdoms. In the 7th
century the competition for teritory began and it continued throughout
the 8th century. By the end of the 7th century the missionaries sent by
Pope Gregory I would have already converted most of the Anglo-Saxon
kingdoms, starting with King Aethelberht of Kent. As disputes between
the rival kingdoms continued: Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex, the
missionaries completed their work with Augustine becoming the
first Archbishop of Canterbury. The Germanic immigrants brought with

them different religions and gods including the resurgence of paganism

in England. The process of conversion started again, but the Vikings
beliefs were quickly assimilated into Christianity.
The composition of the societies of The Early Middle Ages was
hierarchical. Under the king, who was the absolut monarch, were the
thegns (nobels) and the churls (freeman). Lower classes were formed by
geburs and slaves, who possessed only minimal rights. In time the
balance of power between these different groups changed.
Under the Offa kings, Mercia became strong enough to push the
Britons towards Wales while, under King Egbert, Essex extended its
supremacy and a new kingdom was formed: Englalond. In 871, when
Alfred began his reign, people of Wessex felt hopeful. He was only 23
years old but, he fought the Northmen for 7 years, until the Danes
surrounded the Anglo-Saxon army at Chippenham. After making a
narrow escape and coming back stronger, Alfred defeated the Danes and
their king, Guthrum, signed a treaty at Wedmore.
During the Middle Ages, two different Christian churches appeared:
the Orthodox Christian Church in the east and the Roman Catholic
Church in the west. The Roman Catholic Church became the main force
in Western Europe. The church provided religious leadership as well as
secular leadership. At the head of the Roman Catholic Church was the
pope. Below the pope came cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and local

priests. Peasants believed in God, Heaven and Hell and had been
thought that their only salvation from Hell would be the Church.
Medieval society was thought that in order to escape punishments and
be from of sin they had to be part of sacraments and all kinds of sacred
spiritual rituals.
While Christian Church continued to gain followers, the kings were
still fighting for leadership and territory. The High Middle Ages began
when the Duke of Normandy, William, with an army of Norman
followers and mercenaries, occupied the south of England.
The Christian church also became rich and powerful in England
and Wales under the Normans. Many churches and cathedrals were built,
including those at Chichester and Durham. A new set of Norman and
French churchmen came to power and while some adopted aspects of
the former Anglo-Saxon religious system, others introduced practices
from Normandy.
The kings in the Middle Ages built many castles across England
and Wales to make the area secure. William used a network of
these castles to control the major centers of power. When William
II inherited the throne violent conflicts began and nobles tried to replace
him with his older brother Robert. That was of no use, and even when
William II died his younger brother, Henry I, replaced him. About that
time, the first Crusade also took place.

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns during the time

of Medieval England against the Muslims of the Middle East. The lands
around Jerusalem were considered holy by Christians. However, in the
early Middle Ages this area was invaded by Turks, and Christians in
Jerusalem were attacked. Christians fought to get Jerusalem back while
the Muslims fought to keep Jerusalem. While English participation in the
First Crusade was limited, England played an important role in
the Second, Third and Fifth Crusades.
When Richard, the son of Henry II, became king, the third Crusade
had already started. He began to raise and equip a new crusader army.
Even though he was sick from scurvy, Richard and his forces aided in
the capture of Acre. Though king for ten years, he only spent around six
months in England. He was succeeded by his brother John who tried
desperately to regain the territory that was lost. John tried to maintain
the peace through signing the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta was an
agreement which limited the power of the king: this was the starting
point of the system of democracy and of the legal system in Britain.
The form of government after the Norman conquest can be
described as a feudal system, in that the new nobles held their lands on
behalf of the king; in return for promising to provide military support and
taking an oath of allegiance, called homage. This system had been used
in Normandy proved to be more useful than the former Anglo-Saxon

system of government. Many tensions appeared within the system of

government. Royal landownings and wealth stretched across England,
and placed the king in a privileged position above even the most
powerful of the noble elite. As time went by, the Norman nobility
intermarried with many of the great Anglo-Saxon families, and the links
with the Duchy began to weaken.
The Late Middle Ages started with the reign of Edward I. Edward
I defeated the Welsh and started a program of colonization and castle
building through the region. Like his grandfather, Edward III took steps to
restore royal power, but the Black Death soon arrived in England.
The Black Death was a bubonic plague, which killed almost half the
population. It is believed that the plague was spread by flea-infected
rats. The first known case was in Weymouth, Dorset, when a seaman
arrived infected. By autumn, the plague had reached London, and by
summer it covered the entire country, before dying down by December.
After this the plague continued to return intermittently, but its impact
became less cruel.
When facing death, medieval society looked to the Church, for
rituals of comfort. Fearing contagion, burials became hasty affairs. By
law, no one other than immediate family could accompany the body to
the cemetery and many city governments forbid the ringing of parish
church bells, believing it would discourage the sick and dying multitudes.

With fewer priests but more deaths, Pope Clement VI started to grant
remission of sins to all who died of Black Death. The church started to
charge money for some of their services and as a result it quickly
became richer.
The economic and demographic crisis created a sudden surplus of
land, undermining the ability of landowners to exert their feudal rights
and causing a collapse in incomes from rented lands. Legislation was
introduced to limit wages and to prevent the consumption of luxury
goods by the lower classes. A new class of gentry emerged as a result of
these changes, renting land from the major nobility to farm out at a
profit. The legal system continued to expand dealing with an ever wider
set of problems.
Meanwhile, Edward, under pressure from France in Aquitaine,
made a challenge for the French throne. Over the next century, English
forces fought many campaigns in a long-running conflict that became
known as the Hundred Years' War. The Hundred Years' War was a series
of conflicts led by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of England, against
the House of Valois, rulers of France, for control of the latter kingdom.
Edward's grandson, Richard II faced political and economic
problems, many resulting from the Black Death, including the Peasants
Revolt that broke out across the south of England. After a short period of
time the Wars of The Roses finally broke out awakened by an economic

crisis and a perception of poor government. Wars of the Roses was the
series of civil wars whose violence and civil strife preceded the strong
government of the Tudors and it was fought between the Houses of
Lancastar and York for the English throne.
By the time that Richard II was deposed in 1399, the power of the
major noble magnates had grown considerably; powerful rulers such as
Henry IV would contain them, but during the minority of Henry VI they
controlled the country. Their influence was expended both through
the House of Lords at Parliament and through the king's council. The
gentry and wealthier townsmen exercised increasing influence through
the House of Commons, opposing raising taxes to pay for the French
wars. When Henry VII took the throne in 1485, England's governmental
and social structures had already been substantially weakened, with
whole noble lines extinguished.
All this time, the power of the Church did not decrease. In times of
need people found themselves once again calling to the Church for
leadership and advice. In conclusion, while kings fought for supremacy
and wealth, the church gained more and more followers. Even through
the Black Death when faith in the Church was at its lowest point, people
still waited for a miracle. Kings waged war, but the Church had the
power to calm the population through priests and monks who spread the
word of God.

Bejan, R. Britain Past and Present (Iai: Institutul European, 2001)
Baker, J. English Stained Glass of the Medieval Period (London:
Thames and Hudson, 1978)
Dyer, C. Everyday Life in Medieval England (London: Hambledon
and London, 2000)
Hicks, M. The Wars of the Roses (New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 2012)
Prestwich, M. The Three Edwards: War and State in England, 1272
1377 (London: Routledge, 2003)
Tyerman, C. England and the Crusades, 10951588 (Chicago, US:
University of Chicago Press, 1996)