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Era Summaries of the
British Middle Ages

Early Britain     Saxons, Danes, and Normans     Plantagenet Kings     Tudor England     Stuart England     Scotland     European Middle Ages    

Early Britain

(56 B.C. to 784 A. D.)

Invasion of Julius Caesar, to the first Viking raids on Saxon England

The British isles were first settled by Celtic tribes, who were the original inhabitants of much of Western Europe. Known by the Romans as Gauls, the Celts were notable for their druid priests, colorful fabrics, clever metal-working, and ferocious warrior spirit. The Romans had extensive contact with the Gauls, and by the time they sought to take possession of the British Isles, they had already conquered most of Gaul (France) and Hispania (Spain). Julius Caesar sent ships across the English channel and subdued the Britons (British Celts) in 54 B.C. He succeeded in vanquishing a local tribe but did not follow up his victories by establishing permanent forts in the region.

Roman Britain—It was not until a hundred years after the age of Caesar that the Emperor Claudius led a second, more permanent invasion of Britain. United under Caractacus, the British Celts continued to resist for several years, but at last submitted to Roman rule. Most of the Britons submitted peacefully, especially after Agricola, a prominent Roman governor, demonstrated the benefits of civilization by building schools, roads, and aqueducts. The only rebellion of Britons against the Romans was led by Queen Boadicea just ten years after the second invasion.

Although the Romans were able to subdue the Britons in the south, they never conquered the wild tribes of Picts in the north. Emperor Hadrian built a wall from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth to indicate the northern border of civilization. This same boundary remained the border between the countries of England and Scotland for more than a thousand years following.

Britain fared well under Roman rule. Roads were built, trade and commerce thrived, and as Christianity spread throughout the empire, many native Celts became Christian. Saint Patrick was a Celtic Christian who left Britain in 433 as a missionary to Ireland, and is known for converting most of the Irish to Christianity. The Celtic Christians in both Britain and Ireland built monasteries, which were important repositories of learning and helped keep Christianity alive in the British Isles during the years of struggle against Saxon invaders.

Saxon Britain—In 402, Rome officially withdrew its legions from Britain, leaving the Celts to fend for themselves against the savage Picts of the north and the Saxon pirates who raided the coastal towns. The Jutes, Angles, and Saxons were German-speaking tribes from Northern Europe who were aware of the good roads, wealthy towns, and productive farmland that could be found in Britain. As soon as the Roman legions were gone, these German tribes began their incursions.

Legend has it that the first Anglo-Saxon settlers were Hengist and Horsa, two princes invited to Britain by Vortigern, a Celtic king. He sought the help of the Saxon princes in fighting off his enemies but soon regretted permitting them to settle. The inflow of Saxon warriors soon threatened the Celtic kingdoms and there followed centuries of war between the Celts and the invading Saxons. The Celtic heroes of these wars were the legendary King Arthur and his knights, but we know few of the details of the struggle. In the end, the Anglo-Saxon barbarians were the uncontested rulers of the rich and prosperous southeast lowlands, and the British Celts had been driven to the far reaches of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.

The next important event in early British history was the conversion of Ethelbert, a Saxon king, to Christianity by the Roman missionary Saint Augustine of Kent. The Saxons were too proud to be converted by the despised Celts, but they were impressed by an embassy from Rome and gradually accepted the faith. During the sixth and seventh centuries, Saxon England became Christianized, although the Celtic and Saxon churches continued to be governed independently for many years.

Saxons, Danes and Normans

(802 to 1154 A. D.)

Egbert the Saxon becomes King of Wessex, to death of the Last Norman King.

At the end of the eighth century, the British Saxons suffered their first attack by the Danes—also known as Vikings—a warlike race of pagans from Denmark and Norway. Shortly thereafter Egbert the Saxon unified the Saxon and Angle kingdoms for the purpose of common defense, and at that time the name of England (or Angle Land) was given to the country. Saxon kings descended from Egbert ruled the Kingdom of Wessex from 802 until shortly before the Norman conquest in 1066. The Danish incursions continued for the next hundred and fifty years until the Danes finally drove the Wessex king into exile. By that time, however, many of the Danes had become Christian and the age of Vikings was coming to a close.

Alfred the Great—By far the most outstanding Saxon king was Alfred the Great. He reigned from 871 to 899 at a time when the Viking marauders had destroyed dozens of Saxon towns and monasteries, laid waste to acres of productive farmland, and utterly disrupted civilized society. Alfred himself was driven from his throne and compelled to go into hiding, where he watched helplessly as his kingdom was ravaged by villainous pagans. Eventually he recovered from his ill fortune and organized a Saxon army, which, when the time was right, attacked and defeated the Danes. Instead of slaughtering his enemies, however, he made a pact with their leader Guthrum and agreed to a settlement by which the Danes would lay down their arms, convert to Christianity, and help repel further incursions by pagans. This brought several decades of peace to the Saxon kingdom during which Alfred organized a navy and rebuilt infrastructure, schools, and churches.

There were several other important Saxon kings. Athelstan, Alfred's grandson, defeated a united army of Celts and Danes at the battle of Brunanburh. He, like his father and grandfather, was an excellent king. Unfortunately, by the beginning of the eleventh century, a series of boy kings greatly weakened the Wessex monarchy. This series of immature rulers finally ended with Aethelred the Unready, who misgoverned his entire reign and was driven from the throne. For a time his son co-ruled with a Danish king, but eventually died, leaving a Dane as king of the Saxons. Fortunately, the Danish king's son, Canute the Great, ruled well and again brought peace between the Saxons and Danes. When he died, Edward the Confessor, the youngest son of Aethelred, was restored to the throne. He died without issue, bringing the Wessex line to an end, and William the Duke of Normandy, who was of Norse stock, won the throne at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Norman England—The Norman conquest was one of the most important events in the history of England. The Saxon kings were never as powerful as the Dukes of Normandy, for the Normans had inherited the old Roman habits of centralized government, whereas the Saxon kings were merely overlords of their earls and barons. William the Conqueror ruled England firmly but fairly, making sure that taxes were collected and justice was served in a uniform manner. He crushed all rebellions and replaced most of the Saxon overlords with Norman nobles. He made many changes in the government, all of which resulted in a relatively strong and independent central government and curtailed the power of the nobles. He was an effective king, but very unpopular with the Saxon population.

The Norman line only lasted for three generations. After William died, his son William Rufus ruled. When he was killed in a hunting accident, his brother Henry Beauclerc ruled for 35 years, and also died without a male heir. The throne of England was then contested between Henry's daughter Matilda of England and her cousin Stephen, a weak king favored by the mischievous barons. With the throne as good as vacant, the barons were allowed to have their own way, and civil wars plagued the country for almost 20 years. Finally Matilda's son, better known as Henry Plantagenet, fought his way to the throne. During his long reign, order and prosperity were restored to the realm.

Plantagenet Kings

(1154 to 1485 A.D.)

Henry Plantagenet assumes throne of England, to War of the Roses

The rule of the Plantagenet dynasty was long and eventful. Henry II Plantagenet came to the throne in 1154, and the last Plantagenet, Richard III, was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, over three hundred years later. During this time, great changes took place in England. In the early years of the Plantagenet dynasty, the barons revolted against king John and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, which guaranteed certain rights to the towns and nobles. Later, they forced the king to call a Parliament to advise him in ruling the kingdom. The Plantagenets were involved in two long and ruinous wars. The first was the Hundred Years War with France, which went well for England at first but in the end proved disastrous. The second was the War of the Roses, a frightful civil war between rival claimants to the throne that nearly wiped out the entire Plantagenet line.

Henry II and Sons—Henry Plantagenet, the founder of the Plantagenet line, was the great-grandson of William the Conqueror. He inherited the throne through his mother, but had to fight to establish his claim. He married another powerful monarch, Eleanor of Aquitaine, heir to the duchy of Aquitaine, so between the two they controlled much of France as well as all of England. Henry spent much of his reign in various wars, consolidating his power. He had four sons, two of whom followed him on the throne. The elder son, Richard I, is best known as a crusader. He spent most of his reign away from England, leaving the country in the hands of his devious brother John Lackland. John was a poor ruler and managed to lose most of the land in France that he had inherited from his parents. Finally, Archbishop Langton and the barons forced him to sign the Magna Carta, limiting his power.

Edwards I, II, and III—John's son Henry III supposedly ruled for 56 years, but for much of that time his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort governed in his place. Montfort ruled competently and established the first English parliament. When Henry III's son Edward I came to the throne the people rejoiced because they finally had a king who was half Saxon and spoke English instead of French, which had been the language of the ruling class since the Norman conquest. He proved to be a competent king, and brought Wales, Ireland, and Scotland under his sway. However, his hold on Ireland was never strong and shortly after his death, Scotland won its independence at the Battle of Bannockburn. Edward's degenerate son was a cowardly leader with unpopular favorites. He was deposed in favor of his son Edward III, who ruled for fifty years and got England involved in a war with France. There were several important battles in the Hundred Years War, including Calais, Crecy, and Poitiers. England won all three battles against great odds, but never succeeded in establishing Edward III's claim to the French throne.

Edward III's eldest son was Edward the Black Prince, a warrior prince popular with the people, who never became king because he died before his long-lived father. The crown then passed to the Black Prince's son. Richard II was a poor king and unpopular, so he was deposed in favor of his cousin Henry IV Bolingbroke. Unfortunately, Henry IV was not the rightful king, but his selection was not resisted because his father John of Gaunt was exceedingly powerful and had been regent for much of Richard II's reign. The issue was not pressed for two generations but later became the cause of a devastating civil war.

The Lancastrians: Henrys IV, V, and VI—Henry Bolingbroke's son was Henry V, famous for his victory over the French at Agincourt. Henry V reopened the Hundred Years War and came close to gaining the French crown, but died only a few years after his great victory. He left a young son, Henry VI, who was a peace-loving and studious man but a weak leader. During his reign the French rallied under Joan of Arc and reclaimed all of the land England had won, bringing an end to the war in favor of France.

The Yorks: Edward IV and Richard III—Because of his weak leadership and the loss of English holdings in France, Henry VI became unpopular with both the nobles and the populace. Seeing an opportunity, his cousin the Duke of York claimed the throne. He denied Henry Bolingbroke's claim three generations back and insisted that he was the rightful king. This led to the ruinous War of the Roses, in which the Lancaster and the York lines of the Plantagenet family vied for the throne. The plots turns and reverses of this war are difficult to follow, but the main contenders were not the monarchs themselves, but the Earl of Warwick, cousin to the Duke of York, and Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI's wife. The war proved bitter and deadly, and many nobles lost their lives. It also greatly enhanced the power of the king, since the king was allowed to confiscate the estates of any noble that rose in rebellion. As the kingship passed back and forth between the Lancastrians and Yorkists for dozens of years, almost every house was at some point in alliance with a "rebel".

The Yorks were finally victorious, but they came to a bad end. Edward IV ruled for 22 years, but when he died his brother Richard usurped the throne by killing Edward's young sons. This villainy accomplished, Richard III found he had made many enemies, and when Henry Tudor, a distant relative on the Lancaster side, brought an army against him, several of his generals deserted to the Tudor cause. Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings, was killed on the battlefield of Bosworth, bringing the noble line that had ruled England for three centuries to an inglorious end.

Tudor England

(1485 to 1603 A. D.)

Henry Tudor defeats Richard III at Bosworth Filed, to death of Queen Elizabeth

Henry Tudor was descended from John of Lancaster, but his claim to the throne was no greater than those of many other Plantagenet descendants. Soon after defeating Richard III at Bosworth Fields, he married the daughter of the Yorkist King Edward IV and joined the York and Lancaster houses into a single line. He ruled diplomatically, tried to avoid war, and gave England time to recover from the dislocations of the War of the Roses. Many doubted his claim but few were willing to reopen the issue.

Henry VIII and the Break with Rome—Henry Tudor's son Henry VIII ascended to the throne in 1509 and ruled for 38 years. His reign coincided with the outbreak of the Reformation in Europe, and during his reign England became a Protestant country. England's conversion to Protestantism was controversial because, although there were many sincere churchmen who favored reforms, the manner in which Henry VIII broke England's ties with the church of Rome was highly opportunistic.

There were two issues which motivated Henry VIII to declare the "Act of Supremacy," which asserted the sovereignty of the king of England over the laws of the Church in England. One was to remove all obstacles to his divorce from his wife of 20 years, Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Boleyn. The second was for an excuse to dissolve the monasteries and confiscate Church property. This scheme was advanced by Henry's minister, Thomas Cromwell, in spite of a tremendous outcry from clergy and poor tenants who depended on the monasteries for their living. Although some of the monasteries were wealthy and corrupt, Henry made no effort to reform them or to distinguish good from bad. He simply closed them all, turned hundreds of their inhabitants into the streets, and sold their lands to nobles and wealthy merchants for cash. Once this great theft had occurred there was no turning back because many of the nobles of England were in possession of valuable property that the Roman Church claimed as its own.

Henry VIII outlawed the Catholic Church and executed hundreds of people who opposed him. Most of those who were executed, including both the Catholic Saint Thomas More and the Protestant Thomas Cromwell, did not suffer directly from persecution based on their beliefs, but were killed because they stood in the way of Henry's schemes.

Henry left three children by three different wives. His only son, Edward VI of England, reigned for six years, but was under the sway of his uncles, the Dukes of Somerset and Northumberland. Both were Protestants who had benefited from the dissolution of the monasteries and were primarily interested in consolidating their own power. Like Henry VIII, they persecuted Catholics based on political factors rather than ideology. When Edward VI fell ill, the Duke of Northumberland arranged for his young cousin Lady Jane Grey to assume the throne, since he believed she would be easier to control than Mary, Edward's elder sister. However, most people believed that Mary had a better right to the throne and supported her claim, even though she was known to have Catholic sympathies.

Mary I—Mary Tudor was a sincere Catholic and as soon as she came to the throne tried her best to mend the breach with the Church of Rome. By this time, however, Protestantism was well established, especially among the aristocracy and the merchant class. Her greatest miscalculation was to take Philip II of Spain, the most powerful Catholic monarch in Europe, for her husband. Even among devout Catholic Englishmen, Spain was feared and hated. To make matters worse, her marriage was an unhappy one and did not produce an heir as Mary hoped.

Mary put over three hundred people to death during her reign—far less than those killed under the reign of her father and brother. However, because she was a sincere Catholic instead of a calculating politician, Mary harassed many of the most able and articulate Protestant leaders for their heretical beliefs, rather than focusing only on those who stood in her way politically. This made her unpopular with those who genuinely sympathized with the Protestant cause, and her reputation for religious persecution far exceeds that of her far more murderous father.

Elizabeth I and the Great Armada—Elizabeth was only 24 when her older sister Mary died and she became queen. From a young age she was exceptionally politic in her manner of ruling and sought to ease religious strife. Although she embraced the Protestant cause, Elizabeth sought compromise, and did not aggressively persecute Catholics.

Whenever possible, Elizabeth tried to avoid or delay direct conflict. She never married, but kept dozens of suitors on the line, presumably to gain favors and forge alliances. She was often occasionally duplicitous: for example, she signed a death warrant for her arch-rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, but protested loudly when she was executed. It was often difficult to discern her true motives, but she lived in troublesome times, and her duplicity usually had diplomatic intents. For instance, England's relationship with Spain was poor for many years, but Elizabeth managed to put off direct confrontation for nearly three decades by obfuscation and insincere promises. When the Spanish finally invaded, she united the entire country—even many English Catholics—against them. The defeat of the Spanish Armada was the decisive battle of the Anglo-Spanish Wars and profoundly affected the perceived strength of England and Spain both in Europe and in the New World.

The reign of Elizabeth is also famous for her outstanding seamen. Sir Francis Drake, Sir Martin Frobisher, Sir John Hawkins, and Richard Grenville were some of the men who laid the foundation for British naval power before, during, and after the Spanish Armada. The Elizabethan age is also known for its literary greats, including Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare.

Stuart England

(477 to 404 B.C.)

James I assumes the throne of England, to death of Queen Anne

The reign of the Stuarts, lasting from 1603 to 1714, coincided almost exactly with the 17th century and was the most significant in English history in terms of formation of modern ideas of political and religious liberty. By the end of the Stuart reign, England was governed primarily by a democratically elected parliament and the idea of "freedom of conscience" in religious matters was well established. Obviously these ideas had not yet been followed to their ultimate conclusion, since only the wealthiest classes were allowed to vote and Catholics were still persecuted, but it was Englishmen living under the turbulent Stuart reign who laid the foundations for western style democracy and religious pluralism, an achievement unparalleled by any other nation, even within Christendom.

The problem of reporting on the evolution of ideas is that ideas are complicated and controversial, whereas events are relatively straight forward. The "dictates of conscience" was not a particularly important factor during the War of the Roses, for example, since loyalties on all sides were determined by self-interest. The English Civil Wars, on the other hand, were the result of a convoluted mixture of strongly held religious principles, ideals of self-government, dismay at the corruption of existing institutions, loyalty to traditional institutions, and good old-fashioned self-interest. There were brave and heroic men on all sides (not both sides, for this was a many-sided conflict) as well opportunists and tyrants. Bearing in mind the complexities of the situation, the Stuart reign proceeded as follows:

James I—When Elizabeth died, the crown passed to her grand-nephew, James I (a.k.a. James VI of Scotland), so he became king of both England and Scotland; two independent governments under a single sovereign. Scotland was a much poorer and more backward country than England, and it had also been affected by the Reformation. Instead of merely breaking with Rome, however, the Scottish Presbyterians favored more radical Calvinist style reforms, which did away entirely with the priesthood, liturgy, and organized church.

Although James had grown up entirely under the sway of the Presbyterian Scots, he was by no means sympathetic to many of their ideas. He saw that rejecting the ideal of traditional authority was but a step towards rejecting the idea of a king. The Scots as a nation were bound by loyalty to the Stuart kings, who were descended from Robert Bruce, but there were radicals among the Presbyterians with dangerous ideas regarding self-government. James therefore allied himself with the interests of the Anglican Church and repressed the non-conformists in England. It was during the reign of James that the Puritans settled the New England colonies in America. Other important events of the reign of James I included a failed Catholic rebellion called the Gunpowder Plot and the publication of the King James Bible.

Charles I and the English Civil War—James I quarreled with his Parliament, which was becoming more sympathetic to the cause of the Puritans, but a full scale war between Parliament and the king did not break out until the reign of his son Charles I. Charles I was no more tyrannical than previous kings, but the disposition of Parliament had changed considerably. England was becoming a wealthy and powerful trading nation; the cities were growing larger; the middle-class was rising in importance; gunpowder had changed the nature of warfare; and old ideas of being ruled by a landed aristocracy were resisted by many of the best men of the nation. The ideas of self-government and freedom of conscience in religious matters were hopelessly intermixed, but when war finally broke out the essential division was between the traditionalists, who supported the king and the Anglican Church, and the Puritans, who supported more rights for Parliament and the disestablishment of the state church. From the very beginning, however, loyalties were mixed on both sides. For example, about a third of Parliament decided to fight for the king, and many Scots who opposed the Anglican Church were entirely loyal to their Stuart king.

Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth—After the first phase of the English Civil Wars (1642-1645), the king was captured. Parliament and the army sought a compromise that would bring peace to the nation, but could not find one. Even when the king was beheaded by his enemies, no closure to the conflict followed. The civil war continued to rage, first in Ireland and then in Scotland. The man who had come to the fore during the civil war was Oliver Cromwell, whose highly disciplined "Ironsides" had brought Parliament the victory. He was an extremely controversial figure, who, like Charles I, attempted to dissolve parliament when it disagreed with him. He presided over the Commonwealth of England, ruling essentially as a dictator. During this period the Anglican church was disestablished and many prominent families, including the ancestors of some of America's founding fathers, moved to Virginia, a royalist stronghold. Cromwell did much to advance the cause of religious freedom for everyone but Catholics and Anglicans, but was extremely unpopular with the general population. Many Englishmen who had once supported parliament decided that the only thing worse than a lax and corrupt government was a despotic and puritanical government.

Restoration and the "Glorious Revolution"—When Cromwell died one of his Puritan generals proposed to restore Charles II to the throne if he promised to respect the rights of Parliament and religious dissenters. Because Charles II was a hedonistic and carefree monarch, he did not persecute those who disagreed with him, but neither did he provide strong leadership when it was needed. Charles II's reign was wrought with crises, including a terrible plague, the great fire of London, and an invasion by the Dutch navy. But although troubles and controversies continued between the monarchy and parliament, neither side was inclined to turn to armed resistance or civil war to resolve them.

A crisis within the monarchy did not arise again until the death of Charles II, at which time his brother James II, a Catholic, ascended to the throne and attempted to pass laws granting tolerance to Catholics. This alarming development united the feuding Protestants, and within a short time James II was driven from the throne in favor of his daughter and son-in-law, who were loyal Protestants. The English refer to this as the "Glorious Revolution" because it was accomplished almost entirely without bloodshed on English soil. William III and Mary assumed the throne at the behest of Parliament, thereby establishing the precedent that the rights of Parliament should prevail over royal prerogatives.

After Mary's death her sister Anne assumed the throne. During the remainder of the Stuart reign, the idea that one could accomplish political change through elected representatives rather than by petitioning a sovereign took hold, and party politics became the accepted way of doing business. The Royalists became the Tory or conservative party, and the Whig party represented the old Roundhead cause.

A few other notable things occurred during Anne's reign. The Duke of Marlborough, the greatest general of his age, won a tremendous victory over France at the battle of Blenheim. This critical turning point in the War of the Spanish Succession was important because it curtailed the power of Louis XIV. Also, the Act of Union in 1707 permanently united Scotland and England into the country of Great Britain by combining the two parliaments. Finally, the Act of Settlement established that when Anne should die, the crown would pass to the Hanoverians of Germany. Thus the groundwork was laid for the rise of the British Empire.


(483 to 1707 A.D.)

Union of the Scots and Picts under Macalpine, to the Act of Union

Little is known of Scottish history until the age of Roman Britain. By that time, Scotland was inhabited by Picts, a fearsome and uncivilized people, and by Celtic Britons who had fled from the Romans. In spite of many campaigns, the Romans were never able to conquer the land to the north. The pride of the Scottish nation is that it has lost many battles but never been conquered. In spite of sharing a border with a much stronger nation for hundreds of years, Scotland largely retained its independence until its voluntary union with England in 1707.

Early Kings of Scotland—The Romans referred to northern Britain as Caledonia. The name Scotland came from a tribe of Irish 'Scots' that migrated to the region soon after the Romans left Briton. For hundreds of years, the Scots, Picts, and Britons lived as independent tribes. The Scots eventually became the dominant tribe, and in 843, after many battles, the King of the Picts submitted to Kenneth Macalpine, who became the first "King of Scots."

The Irish were converted to Christianity in the fifth century by Saint Patrick, and because of the close relationship between Ireland and Scotland, Irish missionaries such as Saint Columba were important in the conversion of Scotland to Christianity. Celtic monasteries, such as Iona and Lindisfarne, became centers of learning and culture, while the surrounding regions remained primitive. The Scots as well as the English suffered Viking attacks during the ninth and tenth centuries, but as the Scots were more dispersed there was little outside of the monasteries to plunder. The Vikings, however, took over several northern islands, including Orkney and Shetland, and held them for many years.

Malcolm Canmore was an early Scottish king, whose reign occurred during and after the Norman invasion of England. He was the son of Duncan, who was murdered by Macbeth of Shakespeare fame. Malcolm married Saint Margaret of Scotland, sister of the rightful Saxon king, who had a greatly civilizing effect on him. Their daughter, Maude the Good, married Henry Beauclerc, improving relations between the king of Scots and the Normans of England. Many Norman nobles, including an ancestor of the great patriot Robert Bruce, were granted lands in Scotland.

The Scottish Wars of Independence— The descendants of Malcolm Canmore ruled Scotland until Alexander III of Scotland died without an heir during the reign of Edward I of England. Edward threw his support behind Baliol, one of the claimants of the throne, on condition that Baliol agree to acknowledge him as an overlord. Edward I was such a powerful monarch that most of the Scottish nobles agreed to pay homage to him. Not until William Wallace, a commoner, rallied the population against him did he begin to lose his hold on Scotland. Eventually Wallace was beaten and killed, but then another Scottish hero arose, Robert Bruce, the rightful heir to the crown. Bruce at first sided with Edward I but then turned against him and dedicated his life to freeing Scotland from the English yoke. The Battle of Bannockburn, fought against the weak son of Edward I, was the high point of the Scottish Wars of Independence. It abolished English power in Scotland for generations and firmly established Bruce as the rightful monarch in Scotland.

Bruce's son David died without heirs, so the crown passed to Robert II of Scotland, a grandson of Robert the Bruce and first of the Stuart kings. The Stuart kings continued to rule Scotland until James II of England (a.k.a. James VII of Scotland) was deposed. Even afterwards, the Scots remained loyal to the Stuart line and a Jacobite party dedicated to restoring the Stuart monarchy remained active until the 19th century.

The Stuart kings were of mixed ability; Scotland's relationship with England was always tense, and throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there were continual border wars. In addition, many Scottish barons became so strong that the Stuarts had a great deal of difficulty controlling them. The Douglas clan, descended from a favorite knight of Robert Bruce, became so powerful that the Stuart kings resorted to murder and civil war to bring them down. The Stuart's reign was not particularly peaceful, but the Scots were a war-loving people and could not be kept at peace except by a very strong hand.

Mary Queen of Scots—During the mid-16th century, the Protestant cause in Scotland began to gain ground. The problems were political as well as religious. Two parties formed, and civil war ensued. The problems came to a head during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, who inherited the throne from her father James V when she was only a few weeks old. The royal family remained Catholic, and Mary was raised in France and briefly married to the king of France. When she returned to rule Scotland following the death of her husband, she found the country torn by religious strife. She married her cousin, Stuart Darnley, and produced a son, but she quickly became embroiled in a scandal involving the murder of her husband. More civil wars ensued, and after a decisive defeat she was deposed by the Protestant faction, who reigned in the name of her infant son James VI. She was then driven from the country, imprisoned, and finally executed by her arch-nemesis, Elizabeth I.

Crowns of Scotland and England United—Mary's son James VI was heir to the English throne, so on the death of Queen Elizabeth, he became James I of England. From that time, the Stuart kings resided in England, and the government of Scotland was left in the hands of Parliament. Although James VI was raised Presbyterian, he and his descendants subscribed to the Anglican faith and did not tolerate non-conformists. This caused considerable conflict between the Stuart kings and their Scottish subjects, which flared up during the reign of Charles I, triggering the English Civil Wars. Although many Scots fought against the king during the English Civil War, they fought only for the principles of religious freedom and self-government and strongly resisted Cromwell's effort to eliminate crown altogether.

The Stuarts presided over the independent countries of England and Scotland for over 100 years before the Parliaments were combined into the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. There was much popular resistance to the union among native Scots, and it is thought the Act of Union was brought about by strategic bribery. Anti-English feeling was still strong enough to fuel the Jacobite Rebellion in 1715 and 1745, but by the 18th century the industrial revolution, spurred on the by Scottish inventor James Watt and Scottish economist Adam Smith, was well underway. Rail transportation and commercial trade helped close the distance between the two countries, and pride in the growing empire unified patriot feeling between the two countries. The Scots' reputation as fearless fighters and dauntless explorers was enhanced by their important contributions to colonial development, and from the 18th century on, the history of Scotland is the history of the British Empire.

European Middle Ages

(500 to 1650 A.D.)

Clovis, King of the Franks, converts to Christianity, to the Thirty Years War

Christian Conversion—The central organizing principle of Europe during its rise from the remnants of the Roman Empire to the modern nations of Europe was the Christian religion. The barbarian tribes of Hispania and Gaul had been Christianized to some extent during Roman times, but many of the Germanic and Slavic tribes in the north of Europe were not brought under the influence of Christianity until much later. With the "conversion" of a country to Christianity came many trappings of Christian civilization, including an educated class of clerics, Roman legal institutions, Christian teachings on morals, and—most importantly for regional kings—the recognition of their legitimacy. That is, a local ruler who paid homage to the Church and other Christian overlords could be recognized as a legitimate ruler throughout all of Christendom and had less to fear from both internal rebellions and external invasions. Becoming part of the Christian family of nations did not eliminate these threats, but it enhanced the stability of the ruling classes of Europe and helped create the conditions necessarily for peace, commerce, and progress.

Charlemagne and the Franks—Many important milestones of the early years of the European Middle Ages relate to the conversion of barbarian tribes to Catholic Christianity, and the defense of already Christian territories from pagan hosts. The conversion of Clovis, king of the Franks, to Catholic Christianity was of utmost importance. During the 7th and 8th centuries, the Franks kept the Moors of Spain at bay, defended Catholic interests in Western Europe, and converted pagan tribes to the Christian cause. In 800 A. D., the greatest of the Frankish kings, Charlemagne, was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pope. Charlemagne not only helped fend off the Moslems in the Iberian Peninsula, but also conquered Northern Italy from the pagan Lombards, and forcibly converted great swaths of Saxony to Christianity. The territory he controlled consisted mainly of modern day France, Germany, and Italy, the central territories of Western Europe.

Once the Holy Roman Empire was established, it faced three long-term threats. First, the threat of Vikings, or barbarian invasion from the north; second, the growing threat of Moslem aggression in Asia Minor and the Mediterranean; and third, internal divisions and strife between the competing powers of Church and state. Although specific conflicts related to these influences were usually regional, the overall threats were common to all of Christen Europe.

Vikings and Normans—Between the years 900 and 1200 A. D., a hardy race of pagan Norsemen overran much of Northern Europe. After decades of plunder and rampage, the Vikings were won over to the Christian cause, less by armed resistance than by acculturation. They frequently conquered Christian lands but ended up marrying Christian women, ruling over Christian subjects, and raising Christian children. As second and third generation Viking rulers became Christianized, their adopted religion spread to their native lands, and eventually all of Scandinavia became Christian. The most important of the Viking rulers were the Normans, who ruled over Northern France and eventually conquered all of Britain and much of Italy. The Norsemen even formed several "crusader kingdoms" in the Middle East, and founded a dynasty in Russia.

During this same period, Christianity was spreading to the Slavic regions of eastern Europe. Poland, Russia, Hungary, Bohemia, and Lithuania were converted to Christianity by both Catholic and Orthodox missionaries. These regions had never been influenced by Roman civilization and did not have written languages until they were converted to Christianity. Even though they were late to adopt the customs and culture of Western Europe, they were important Christian bulwarks against the advancing Mohammed and Mongol threats from the east.

The Islamic Threat—The Christian church had been fighting off schisms and heresies for hundreds of years when the Islamic threat took hold in the outermost regions of Christendom. Within fifty years of the death of Mohammed, the new religion had swept all of the Middle East, Egypt and North Africa. Soon after the Moors conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula and threatened all of Europe. The Franks were key in turning the Mohammedan tide in Spain, and the Eastern Empire, centered in Constantinople, provided a buffer-state between the Moslem states of the middle east and southeast Europe. Without these bulwarks, Europe almost certainly would have been overrun.

The Mohammedan Abbasid dynasty (750 to 1258 A.D.) was centered in Baghdad and ruled over a highly civilized region. The Abbasids tolerated Christian travelers, so for hundreds of years commerce and religious pilgrimages to the holy land continued unhindered. Eventually, however, the Abbasids lost ground to a more radical, less civilized tribe from central Asia. The "Turkish" Moslems conquered both Christian and Abbasid territories and eventually formed the Ottoman Empire. It was this branch of Islam which threatened Europe from the south and East for much of the Middle Ages.

The Crusades, which occurred during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, were a series of campaigns by Christian Europeans intended to reclaim the Holy Lands from Turkish Moslems. When these campaigns failed, the Turks were able to consolidate their territories in Asia Minor and invade southern Europe. Much of the Balkans fell to the Turks in the 12th and 13th centuries, and Constantinople fell in 1453. The Ottoman Turks continued to threaten Eastern Europe throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, and were not driven from the Balkan Peninsula until the 19th century. Many Christian heroes of the Middle Ages gained their renown from fighting to drive back the Mohammedans and maintain a Christian culture within Europe.

Church vs. State—The Christian religion sees the world as having both a spiritual realm and a material realm, and the mediaeval Church claimed the "spiritual" realm as its domain, while acknowledging the rights of princes over their earthly kingdoms. The border between material and spiritual reality, however, has always been a messy one. From the princes' point of view, the church provided important services but should be made to serve the interests of the state. From the Church's point of view, the princes ruled by the grace of God and were beholden to promote the interests of the Church. This conflict of interests has existed throughout the life of the church, and but in the middle ages, when the church held so much influence that an "ex-communicated" prince could not command the allegiance of his subjects, the controversy raged in many forms.

In Germany and Italy, the "investiture controversy" was essentially a conflict about who should control church property. Princes thought that since their armies were needed to protect church properties, they should be allowed to appoint bishops that would serve their interests. The church thought that it should be able to appoint bishops that were faithful to the papacy and Christian interests. Since church properties generated a great deal of income, this was more than a philosophical disagreement, and many wars were fought over the issue. In France the same pressures applied, but the conflict was resolved for a long time by outright theft of the papacy. The "Avignon Papacy" was a hundred year period during which the King of France selected and maintained the Pope in his own domains, and even when the papacy was restored to Rome, it became largely a pawn of the Italian princes.

The result of princes appointing and controlling bishops was inevitably systematic corruption. Church offices and their revenues became tools of the government, and a great deal of the money and land donated to the church for charitable purposes fell under the control of feckless nobles. The astounding factor in this situation was not the deplorable state of morals within the church hierarchy but the fact that at the parish level, so much charitable work continued to get done, and so many pious and faithful servants of God were still attached to the religious life.

The Reformation—The widespread corruption within the church was in blatant conflict with the dogmas the church was bound to uphold. Sincere reformers from both inside and outside the church arose, but the extreme wealth of the church was a magnet for opportunists of all stripes. The manner in which the reformation of the Catholic church occurred, therefore, varied by region, and had a great deal to do with local politics as well as theology.

In Germany, where Luther held sway, the church properties of kingdoms that broke away from Rome fell under the direct control of the princes, but much of the dogma remained intact. In the Netherlands, the Protestant religion became a rallying point against the oppressions of Hapsburg Spain. Calvinist forms of Christianity were especially popular with the merchant classes and in independent cities throughout Europe. Local leaders opposed all hierarchy and rituals of the "papists" and sought to appoint church elders by popular election. In France, the Huguenot movement was almost crushed by the clever machinations of the mastermind, Richelieu, who sought to promote religious unity at home, while he sowed discord among his enemies by promoting Protestant causes in Germany.

The devastating Thirty Years War resulted in the Peace of Westphalia, which permanently granted legitimacy and recognition to many of the Protestant governments of Europe, but its primary political upshot was a strengthened Bourbon France and a greatly weakened Hapsburg Empire. From this point on, the Hapsburg Catholics were no longer a predominant power in Europe. Politics were driven by "balance of power" concerns, as Austria, France, Russia, Russia, and England maneuvered to protect their political interests in a continent where the claims of religious unity could no longer serve as an effective break on nationalistic ambition.

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