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Overview and Background to Medieval Literature

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1 Overview and Background to Medieval Literature
The Medieval Period Overview and Background to Medieval Literature B. McDaniel John F. Kennedy School Berlin, Germany

2 At the beginning (c. 500) Society was tribal (Anglo-Saxons)—England consisted of many small kingdoms which were constantly fighting each other. Christianity was all-important Common factor: educated people spoke/wrote in Latin

3 Charlemagne 800 a.d. (Christmas Day) – crowned Emperor.
Unified tribes, created stability. People were able to think about other things. Monks refined writing system (Carolingian minuscule) Study of Latin (standardized language) 1050ish – poetry written in Provençal (French) People began to write in their own languages. Development of the poetic form known as the “courtly romance”.

4 Last Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor (very religious man).
William supported Edward in a problem with the Danes Edward agreed that William would succeed him as King of England. (Edward had no heirs.) But, when Edward died, Harold I (of the Danes) expected to become King of England. Final outcome was Harold was crowned; William invaded England and defeated Harold; William was crowned.

5 William’s Invasion 1066 – Battle of Hastings
William the Conqueror of Normandy took over the Anglo-Saxons. Normans were descendants of a tribe of Vikings – Norsemen – who had invaded France. They had adopted French language and customs.

6 William’s conquest changed every phase of English life
Language: Educated classes were taught Latin; now they were taught French. Language of court became French. Peasants often spoke a mixture of French and English. (Caused English language to change in sound and rhythm patterns.)

7 Literature: Became more refined.
Court and peasants both enjoyed new songs from Scotland, Ireland, and England. Court enjoyed medieval romances from France. Geoffrey Chaucer – The Canterbury Tales Thomas Malory –Morte d’Arthur religious dramas

8 Government: Normans instituted a stronger central government with stricter control over finances, lands, and military.

9 Local government Townships became manors, owned by a knight, noble, or the king. Cities were walled in and became military organizations. The hundred – a territory allotted to 100 military families. Had an assembly and a reeve (an official who supervised lands for a lord) Shire – similar to a county. Had an earl, a bishop, and a reeve to govern. The shire reeve became known as a sheriff.

10 Central government The King – supported by the army and the church; the head of everything The Witan – The King’s Council. Nobles appointed by the king. Made laws, tried cases, chose the king’s successor.

11 Feudalism Before 1066, the King, his nobles, and others owned land individually. The Norman kings confiscated all the land and apportioned it out, or leased it, to their own dukes and knights. Kings owned land by “divine right” Order of the hierarchy: King barons (appointed by King) vassals (appointed by barons) landless knights serfs (not free to leave the land they worked; were “owned” by the men higher up) Each person swore an “oath of fealty” (allegiance) to the person next higher up.

12 Requirements of serfs Had to attend their lord’s court in person
Entertain him on visits Finance the knighting of the lord’s oldest son, the marriage of his oldest daughter Pay ransom for the lord if and when he was ever captured Owed at least 40 days of military service to their lord each year.

13 A typical oath of fealty
“By the Lord before whom this sanctuary is holy, I will to _____ be true and faithful, and love all which he loves and shun all which he shuns, according to the laws of God and the order of the world. Nor will I ever with will or action, through word or deed, do anything which is unpleasing to him, on condition that he will perform everything as it was in our agreement when I submitted myself to him and chose his will.”

14 Church hierarchy The Archbishop of Canterbury supported the Norman king. Monasteries were centers of learning until universities were built. Religion became the main influence of unity for England—brought together people of all social orders.

15 Changes in the Social Order:
Saxon— King Nobles (Earls) Overlords Reeves Vassals Serfs Norman— King Nobles (Dukes and Earls) Knights Overlords, Bishops Reeves, Mayor Vassals Serfs

16 Military Normans introduced a new military class—Knighthood.
Each knight was required to be responsible for a quota of men always ready to defend their leader and their king. Governed by the Code of Chivalry.

17 Commerce Guilds – groups of merchants, tradesmen, and craftsmen who monopolized the trade of a town; controlled prices; settled disputes.

18 Eventually the Norman discipline and learning fused together with the Anglo-Saxon inventiveness and democratic ideals.

19 Events that dominated/influenced the Middle Ages
The Crusades (1096 to 1200s) Wanted to regain the Holy Land. (Jerusalem was fought over for centuries.) Europeans benefited from the Middle Eastern civilization (math, science, architecture). Impact on everyday life: the middle-class became more important, education became more important. The Martyrdom of Thomas a Becket (1170). Becket was Chancellor (Prime Minister) of England. He had problems with Henry II because Becket sided with the Pope on disagreements. Four of the king’s knights murdered Becket while he was praying.

20 The Magna Carta – signed in 1215.
This document was the basis of English constitutional law. Originally intended to establish the rights of the “privileged” men Eventually used as the rights of all men Did not include women until after 1900.

21 The Hundred Year’s War – 1337 – 1453 (116 years).
England tried to take over France. This long war gave us Joan of Arc (French) and changed the nature of warfare from hand-to-hand combat to fighting with bows and arrows.

22 The Black Death (the plague) – 1348 – 1349.
Wiped out one-third of the population. (Some sources claim up to one-half the population died.) Caused a labor shortage. Serfs were freed; created a new class of society.

23 All the new additions to English life were to the benefit of England, although the English did not think so at the time.

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