The Middle Ages arguably laid the foundations for the England we have today, giving us parliament, the rule of law, and an abiding enmity with the French.
Here are 11 key dates in the history of Medieval Britain.
1. The Norman Conquest – 14 October 1066
In 1066, the Anglo-Saxon kings of the Early Middle Ages were swept aside by the invading Normans. King Harold of England faced off against William the Conqueror on a hill near Hastings. Harold – legend has it – took an arrow in the eye and William claimed the throne.
John I signs the Magna Carta – 15 June 1215
King John was perhaps one of the worst King’s in English history. However, he did inadvertently sign one of the most important documents in British legal history.
After a rebellion by his barons, John was forced to sign the Magna Carta, or Great Charter which placed certain restrictions on his royal authority. He would later renege on the deal, which sparked fresh rebellion, but it was ratified by his successor, Henry III. It’s seen as one of the founding documents of our democracy.
3. Simon De Montfort calls the first parliament – 20 January 1265
Henry III had been in ongoing conflict which his barons leading to the signing of the Provisions of Oxford which imposed a council of advisers, chosen by the barons. Henry wriggled out of the provisions, but was defeated and captured by Simon De Montfort at the Battle of Lewes on 14 May 1264.
De Montfort summoned an assembly which has often been considered a precursor to modern day parliaments.
4. Battle of Bannockburn – 24 June 1314
Edward’s conquests of Scotland had sparked rebellion, most notably by William Wallace who was eventually executed in 1305. Discontent continued, however, and on 25 March 1306 Robert the Bruce had himself crowned King of Scotland in defiance of Edward I who then died on his way up to do battle.
The mantle was taken up by Edward II who was not quite the leader his father had been. The two sides met at Bannocknurn where Robert the Bruce defeated an English army twice the size of his own. It ensured independence for Scotland and humiliation for Edward.
5. The Hundred Years War begins – April 1337
From 1066,England had been linked to France, since William I was Duke of Normandy and as such a vassal of the French King. One of the most notable results of this vassalage occurred in 1120 when King Henry I sent his son and heir, William Adelin, to kneel before the French king. On his return journey, however, William’s ship was wrecked and the young prince drowned, sending England into Anarchy.
This semi-vassalage continued until the Hundred Years War erupted in 1337.
That year, Philip VI of France seized the English held territory of Aquitaine which led Edward III to challenge the might of the French by declaring himself rightful King of France through his mother’s line (she had been the sister of the previous King of France: Charles IV). The resulting conflict divided Europe for over 100 years.
6.The Black Death arrives – 24 June 1348
Bubonic plague had already laid waste to much of Europe and Asia, but in 1348 it arrived in England, probably through the port of Bristol. The Grey Friars’ Chronicle reports 24 June as the date of its arrival, although it likely arrived sometime earlier but took time to spread. In a few years it killed between 30% and 45% of the population.
7. The Peasants Revolt begins – 15 June 1381
In the aftermath of the Black Death fit workers were in high demand and they used this scarcity of labour to attempt to establish better working conditions. The landowners though were reluctant to comply. Coupled with high taxes this discontent among peasants led to a revolt led by Watt Tyler.
King Richard II met the rebels and persuaded them to lay down their arms. After Tyler was killed by the king’s men Richard persuaded the rebels to disband by promising them concessions. Instead they received reprisals.
8. Battle of Agincourt – 25 October 1415
With the French King Charles VI sick, Henry V took the chance to reassert English claims to the throne. He invaded Normandy but when a much larger French force had him pinned down at Agincourt it looked like his number was up. However, the result was a remarkable victory for the English.
The subsequent victory of Troyes left Henry as regent of France and his heir Henry VI would become King of England and France.
9. The Wars of the Roses begins at St Albans – 22 May 1455
Henry VI’s military defeats and mental fragility led to divisions within the court which would escalate into full scale war at the Battle of St Albans. Although tensions had been building for many years the First Battle of St Albans is often seen as the real beginning of the War of the Roses. For most of the next three decades, the houses of York and Lancaster would battle for the throne.
10. William Caxton prints the first book in England – 18 November 1477
William Caxton was a former merchant in Flanders. On his return he established the first printing press in England which would print, among other things, the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer.
11. Battle of Bosworth Field – 22 August 1485
After the death of Edward IV, his son Edward had briefly succeeded him as King. However he died along with his brother while in the Tower of London and Edward’s brother Richard took over. Richard, however, was killed at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry Tudor who established a brand new dynasty.