Unknown Author, historical artefact.— EUROPE IN THE MIDDLE AGES:THE GROWTH OF NATIONALITY.

This text is copied from ‘The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book [Odhams Press]’ or ‘The Book of a Million Facts’, seemingly published in 1933. (Authors/editors unknown).

I will give more precise details of the reference book I am copying from in future parts of this series of posts. And I will try to discover who was involved in  compiling this book I am studying:





ENGLAND AND FRANCE.—In the Middle Ages it is difficult to estimate frontiers and to draw distinctions between nations, for nationality was a plant of slow growth and easily choked by the weeds of feudalism. England was the first of European countries to develop its own nationality, chiefly by reason of its self-contained geographical position.


The Making of England.—When the Roman hosts were withdrawn, the Britons, unused to defending themselves, fell an easy prey to the invaders, among whom the Saxons predominated. As these settlers, too, grew careless of defence, they in their turn fell a prey to the savage Norsemen, and paid them tribute to depart, until Alfred (871-901), the best and strongest of Saxon kings, showed it was possible to beat off invaders.

From his time until the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Saxons suffered continually from Danish marauders, but when William I, “the Conqueror” (1066-1087), secured the English crown after the Battle of Hastings (1066), he showed that he intended to rule as a king should. He made his vassals swear allegiance to him at Salisbury, and he caused a minute survey to be made of all the lands of his realm.

This was known as “Domesday Book,” and “There was not a single hide nor a rood of land, nor . . . an ox, or a cow, or a pig . . . that was not set down in the account.” (From the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.” The Domesday survey was made in 1085.)


The landing of the Normans in England. An incident on the Bayeux Tapestry, formerly believed to be the work of Matilda, the Conqueror’s consort.



The strongest kings continued the Conqueror’s work, and kept in check the worst evils of feudalism, but in 1199 there came to the throne a man as worthless as he was weak (John, 1199-1216), and against him the English people rebelled and forced him to agree to “Magna Charta” in 1215, by which he promised to respect their liberties. This was a great step forward, and the same century (1265) the foundations of Parliamentary government were laid by Simon de Montfort (d.1268), and built upon by King Edward I (1272-1307) when he summoned the Model Parliament of 1298. England had already begun to be a nation, and to develop its most salient characteristic—a love of justice and order, typified by the ideal of parliamentary government.



The Seal of King John of England



The Hundred Years’ War.—When the Norman nobles followed William to England in 1066, they did not give up the estates they held in Normandy, but continued to do homage for them to the French king, so that they acknowledged two different feudal lords. This was an unsatisfactory position, and led to great friction, for the English king was himself the French king’s vassal. Henry II of England 91154-1189), by a fortunate marriage, actually held more lands in France than the French king, and so, although his feudal inferior, was infinitely more powerful.

Under the successors of Henry II, the English possessions in France crumbled away, and when Philip Augustus of France (1180-1223) won the battle of Bouvines in 1214, many of the descendants of the Norman conquerors of England finally lost their French lands. This battle is one of the most important in French history, but it only marks the beginning of the struggle which is seen at its height in the “Hundred Years’ War” which broke out in the next century.

The ambition of Edward III (1327-1377) led him to claim the French crown which he had but a shadowy right, and his aggression led to a series of campaigns which at first proved disastrous to the French. The English won the battle of Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) against heavy odds, and by the Treaty of Bretigny (1360) secured the whole of Guienne and Gascony. What the English had gained, however, they could not keep, and despite further campaigns their dominions shrank away to no more than a few coast towns.

One result of this war was the strengthening of the bond between England and Flanders, and consequent friction between Flanders and the French Crown. The Flemings were dependant upon the English supplies of wool for the cloth-weaving which was their main industry, and when English supplies ceased, the Flemings starved.

“Flanders of needes must with us have peace,

Or else she is destroyéd without lees,” as an English poet wrote in the following century.

Again the struggle broke out when Henry V of England (1413-1422) sought glory and a crown in the Agincourt campaign of 1415. This was the last success the English won, and when Joan of Arc, “the Maid of Orleans,” called upon her countrymen to deliver their land, she awoke response in many hearts. The English thought she was a witch, and burned her at the stake (in 1430), but her work was done, and the English were driven out of stronghold after stronghold until only Calais remained to them of all their French possessions It was finally lost to England in 1558.) France, too, had become a nation.


GERMANY AND THE EMPIRE.—Throughout the Middle Ages Germany was no more than a collection of territories under miscellaneous rulers, held together by no ties of race or loyalty or culture or economic interest, under the dominion of a Holy Roman Emperor who was little more than an abstraction. The Emperor was elected from the various princelings, and was generally preoccupied either with exerting fantastic claims of world-sovereignty which had no foundation in fact, or in advancing the fortunes of his own family.

In the year 1273 an obscure count, Rudolf of Hapsburg, was offered the Imperial crown, to the chagrin of King Ottokar of Bohemia, who had hoped for it himself. This proved to be a turning-point in German history, for Rudolf greatly extended his family territories (having killed his rival, Ottokar, and annexed his lands) and so laid the foundations of Hapsburg power.

The Hansa towns of North Germany, and the Free Imperial Cities, were virtually independent of Imperial control, although the Hanseatic League was careful to defer to the Emperor in theory if not in fact. The Emperor Charles IV (1347-1387), a strange grandson for visionary Henry VII, confined most of his energies to consolidating his position, and he issued the “Golden Bull” of 1356, which settled the manner and method of the Imperial elections, deciding who were the Electors and giving them such powers that he converted them into a feudal oligarchy.


The Swiss Confederation.—In the meantime, a gallant struggle for independence had been going on within the boundaries of the Empire. The sturdy mountaineers of the forest cantons of Uri, Schwytz and Unterwalden, had banded together and in 1291 formed a league for mutual defence against the aggressions of their Hapsburg overlord. A large force was sent under Duke Leopold of Austria to punish these mutinous peasants, a force composed of knights and nobles who thought nothing of the ill-armed peasants, but who were nevertheless routed by the sticks and stones of those peasants on the steep mountainside of the Morgarten (1315). The Swiss had shown that a small band of resolute infantry could vanquish a great army of mounted knights with their clumsy accoutrements, as the Flemings had shown at Courtrai 91302) and the English would show at Crécy (1346).

Other cantons joined the league in 1353, and the Hapsburgs began to realize that the Swiss confederation was more than a mere name. In 1386 the Swiss repeated at Sempach their victory of Morgarten, and the spirit in which they fought this battle is shown by the story of Arnold von Winkelried. Rushing into the forefront of the battle, and crying “Look after my wife and children,” he gathered all the spears within reach and thrust them through his body, so clearing space for his friends to swing their axes and hatchets.

By such resolution and courage did the Swiss win recognition for the “confederation,” which would develop into the compact and sturdy republic Switzerland has ever since remained.


ITALY.It is impossible to treat the history of Italy in the Middle Ages as a whole, nor can any general thread be traced in the intricate pattern presented by the various city states. The most that can be done is to indicate various tendencies which, at different times, may be observed. The five most important cities were Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples and Milan, and a study of their various histories will reveal the greatest diversity and complexity.

The Venetian Republic.—Venice, from her position on a network of islands, cut off from the mainland by lagoons and salt-marshes, was essentially a sea power, and so escaped many of the entanglements and quarrels of her neighbours. Her position, too, admirably fitted her for developing trade with Byzantium and the Levant, so that she rapidly built up great prosperity.

Rivalry with Genoa led to fierce warfare, which raged intermittently in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. For some time Genoa held her own, indeed at one time she had the upper hand, but in 1380 the War of Chioggia brought her ruin. From this time forward, Venice was the richest and most luxurious of all European cities, until the discovery of new trade routes wrecked her prosperity. In the fourteenth century, however, that time was yet distant, and the Venetian Republic, with its admirable government of Doge and Council, its factories and warehouses, its beautiful city, its palaces, and its glorious cathedral, was the envy of the world.

Florence.—From early times Florence was the home of art and culture, and yet no city was so torn with faction and internal strife. She had rich warehouses full of woven silk and cloth, the envy and despair of all other craftsmen, yet in a fire caused by a quarrel between two families the entire business quarter might be destroyed. (This actually happened in the fourteenth century.)

To the customary strife between Guelfs and Ghibellines, opponents and supporters of the Empire, Florence added her own faction fights between “Blacks” and “Whites”—strife of a personal rather than political significance. Yet Florence was the most beautiful of cities, and her buildings and pictures and statues were the admiration of all. The greatest of all Florentines, the poet Dante, was exiled from his native home and ended his days in misery far from his beloved Florence, while more fortunate or more discreet citizens toasted and sang at their delightful banquets, and feared no penalties save those of the sumptuary laws.

Rome, the “Eternal City.” —Rome could never forget that she had once been the centre of the world. Arnold of Brescia had dreamed of making her a Free City, but his schemes were too visionary and his opinions were adjudged heretical, so he was burned at the stake and his ashes cast into the Tiber in the year 1155.

With his removal of the Papal court to Avignon in 1308 came the opportunity for Rome to take her rightful place, but she had too long accepted the domination of the Papacy, and the Roman citizens were too turbulent, and the Roman nobles too selfish, to join whole-heartedly in any scheme for regeneration.

One attempt was made, and by the fiery vision which inspired it, came for a moment near success. A young Roman, Cola di Rienzi, who had spent his short life in passionate study of the classics and antiquities of Rome, believed that he might revive Rome’s past grandeur. He was persuasive and eloquent, and when in 1347 he raised the banner of revolt, he found many followers. The suddenness of his movement brought it immediate success, and Rienzi proclaimed the Holy Roman Republic. The position he had won without a blow, Rienzi could hold only for a few months. The nobles, who detested him, circulated false rumours which incensed the fickle mob against their leader, and his own extravagances and vanity did the rest. In 1354 he was murdered, and with him there perished his Holy Roman Republic.

Naples and the South.—The history of Naples in the Middle Ages is a gloomy record of murder and massacre, plot and counterplot, interspersed with brilliant intervals when the Norman and Hohenstaufen rulers held their courts.

When Conradin, the last of the Hohenstaufen, died in 1268, Naples and Sicily passed to Charles of Anjou, the brother of St. Louis IX of France. The harsh rule of the French provoked the excitable Sicilians to a terrible revenge. At Palermo, in 1282, there broke out on Easter Monday a terrible massacre in which more than 4,000 French men, women and children perished. This massacre earned the grim title of the “Sicilian Vespers,” and its result was to transfer Sicily from Angevin to Aragonese rule. In Naples, however, the Angevin dynasty continued uuntil 1435, when Naples was conquered by the House of Aragon.

Milan.—In Milan is seen one of the first, and perhaps the most striking example of despotic rule, which would become more common in the next century, and which did so much to foster the Renaissance in its various manifestations.

In many of the North Italian communes power was beginning to pass into the hands of one particular family, and in Milan control of the city was in the fourteenth century vested in the Visconti, whose crest was, appropriately enough, a viper. The most distinguished of a cruel, ruthless, yet able family was Gian Galeazzo Visconti. It was his plan to found a kingdom in North Italy, and he stretched out his territories, annexing town after town, until his boundaries included Verona and Vicenza to the east, Pisa and Siena in the South, so that he was on the point of absorbing Venice and Florence as well. His schemes were cut short by his sudden death in 1402, and his lands, acquired by murder, force and bribery, at once fell to pieces.

The Italian despots, often personal cowards (as Gian Galeazzo himself), employed mercenary captains and their bands to work out their schemes. This saved them the expense and danger of a standing army. The mercenaries were known as condottieri, and in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries they became of the greatest importance in Italian politics, and even set themselves up as despots; Milan itself falling to Francesco Sforza, the most famous of them all.


THE FRINGES OF EUROPE.On the eastern border, Europe was in the fourteenth century slowly recovering from the ravages of the Mongol tribes. Russia was beginning to develop its individual character, though still subservient to Mongol overlords, and by the middle of the century the foundations of Moscow’s future greatness had been laid. Hungary was a strong state, and leader of the opposition to the steadily advancing Ottoman Turks. Poland and Lithuania, united in 1386, had spread their power into Western Russia, but this state was composed of warring elements and held the seeds of dissolution. In Scandinavia there was rivalry between Denmark and the Hanseatic League. By the Treaty of Stralsund (1370) the Danish King Waldemar “Atterdag” was forced to respect the rights of the Hansa, but he did not give away the power he was laboriously building up in his compact little state. In 1397 the Danish sovereign, Queen Margaret, inherited Norway, Sweden and Finland, and united all four countries into a great Scandinavian state (by the Union of Kalmar) which promised to become very powerful, and in which signs of internal dissension did not immediately appear.


Spain and Portugal.—The Mohammedan conquest of Spain is referred to here: https://broadhurst.vivaldi.net/1398-2/ Only in the north was effective resistance offered to the Moors, in the mountain districts of Leon and the Asturias, in Navarro and in Castile. The Moors were tolerant as conquerors, and there was no bitterness between Mohammedans and Christians, save in so far as the Christians resented the forfeit of the estates they had done so little to protect. By degrees they began to win the country back from Mohammedan rule, but it was a tedious business, and it was not until 1492 that reconquest was fully accomplished.

Spanish history provides two of the most attractive and typical of chivalrous heroes of the Middle Ages. The first, chronologically is a Castilian noble known as “The Cid,” famed far and wide for his courage and success in battle. He cared little whether he served Moor or Christian—”All Kings are alike to me so long as they pay my price!”—but he won for himself part of the province of Valencia and so laid the foundation of Christian dominion there.

The other hero had a dark as well as brilliant side to his character, for he was as violent as he was generous and as cruel as he was kind, as licentious as he was pious, gay, handsome and chivalrous. This typical yet anomalous character was James “the Conqueror” of Aragon (1213-1276); he once said: “I am not a lion or leopard,” but he had the qualities of both, and by his courage and his cunning he won back a great part of Mohammedan Spain.

As for Portugal, Lisbon was recovered from the Moors in 1147 by French and English crusaders en route for the Holy Land, and became the capital of the new kingdom.

Office clerk.

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