The period from 1000 to 1300, called the High Middle Ages, witnessed
significant changes and high levels of advancement from a wide variety of
perspectives. In England, William the Conqueror secured a unified kingdom in
1066, and successive English kings managed to keep their competitors under
control and build up the machinery of royal administration. In France, the
movement toward the consolidation of royal power emanated from the minuscule
Ile de France. Each of the many counties and duchies that constituted feudal
France had to be subordinated and brought within the framework of royal
authority. It took the French kings three centuries to accomplish what William
the Conqueror had done in one generation. The German kings dissipated their
energies by seeking the prize of empire over the Alps in Italy and Sicily.
Nation-making in Spain was unique, since it acquired the religious fervor of a
crusade. In the mid-eleventh century the Christian Spanish states began the
Reconquista in earnest, but not until the end of the fifteenth century
would the task be completed.
Economically, Europe was transformed by new forces: increased food
production and population, revitalized trade, new towns, expansion of
industry, and a money economy. A new society began to take shape - the
bourgeoisie emerged, and serfdom declined.
The Middle Ages
The period of European history extending from about 500 to 1400–1500 ce is traditionally known as the Middle Ages. The term was first used by 15th-century scholars to designate the period between their own time and the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The period is often considered to have its own internal divisions: either early and late or early, central or high, and late.
Although once regarded as a time of uninterrupted ignorance, superstition, and social oppression, the Middle Ages are now understood as a dynamic period during which the idea of Europe as a distinct cultural unit emerged. During late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, political, social, economic, and cultural structures were profoundly reorganized, as Roman imperial traditions gave way to those of the Germanic peoples who established kingdoms in the former Western Empire. New forms of political leadership were introduced, the population of Europe was gradually Christianized, and monasticism was established as the ideal form of religious life. These developments reached their mature form in the 9th century during the reign of Charlemagne and other rulers of the Carolingian dynasty, who oversaw a broad cultural revival known as the Carolingian renaissance.
In the central, or high, Middle Ages, even more dramatic growth occurred. The period was marked by economic and territorial expansion, demographic and urban growth, the emergence of national identity, and the restructuring of secular and ecclesiastical institutions. It was the era of the Crusades, Gothic art and architecture, the papal monarchy, the birth of the university, the recovery of ancient Greek thought, and the soaring intellectual achievements of St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224–74).
It has been traditionally held that by the 14th century the dynamic force of medieval civilization had been spent and that the late Middle Ages were characterized by decline and decay. Europe did indeed suffer disasters of war, famine, and pestilence in the 14th century, but many of the underlying social, intellectual, and political structures remained intact. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Europe experienced an intellectual and economic revival, conventionally called the Renaissance, that laid the foundation for the subsequent expansion of European culture throughout the world.
Many historians have questioned the conventional dating of the beginning and end of the Middle Ages, which were never precise in any case and cannot be located in any year or even century. Some scholars have advocated extending the period defined as late antiquity (c. 250–c. 750 ce) into the 10th century or later, and some have proposed a Middle Ages lasting from about 1000 to 1800. Still others argue for the inclusion of the old periods Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation into a single period beginning in late antiquity and ending in the second half of the 16th century.Edward PetersMichael Frassetto