Portal:Medieval Britain

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The Medieval Britain Portal

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Viking voyages and settlement

Great Britain during the Middle Ages (from the 5th century withdrawal of Roman forces from the province of Britannia and the Germanic invasions, until the Early modern period) was fragmented into a number of independent kingdoms. By the High Middle Ages, after the end of the Viking Age and the Norman Conquest, the kingdoms of England and Scotland emerge as the main poles of political power.

The medieval period in England can be dated from the arrival in Kent of Anglo-Saxon troops led by the legendary Hengest and Horsa. Subsequently the Brythonic, Celtic powers were conquered by Jutes, Angles and Saxons Germanic tribes, from the contemporary Angeln and Jutland areas of northern Germany and mainland Denmark. Political takeover of other areas of England proceeded piecemeal and was not completed until the tenth century. Similarly, the end of the medieval period is usually dated by the rise of what is often referred to as the "English Renaissance" in the reign of Henry VIII of England, and the Reformation in Scotland, or else to the establishment of a centralized, bureaucratic monarchy by Henry VII of England. From a political point of view, the Norman Conquest of England divides medieval Britain in two distinct phases of cultural and political history. From a linguistic point of view the Norman Conquest had only a limited effect, Old English evolving into Middle English, although the Anglo Norman language would remain the language of those that ruled for two centuries at least, before mingling with Middle English.

At the height of pre-Norman medieval English power, a single English king ruled from the border with Scotland to the border with Wales to the border with Cornwall. After the Norman Conquest, English power intruded into Wales with increasing vigour, but the process of consolidation was continuous and is not just a medieval feature. The other problem with suggesting such a unity is that the various states had relations with Scandinavia and Continental Europe which are excluded by the concept. For example, northern Scotland often had closer ties with Norway and France (see Auld Alliance) than England or Wales in the medieval period, with Orkney and Shetland only becoming part of Scotland in 1471. Southern England, due to its proximity to Normandy, Flanders and Brittany, had closer relations with them than the other regions. (read more . . . )

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The medieval cathedrals of England, dating from between approximately 1040 and 1540, are a group of twenty-five buildings which together constitute a major aspect of the country’s artistic heritage and are among the most significant material symbols of Christianity. Though diversified in style, they are united by a common function. As cathedrals, each of these buildings serves as central church for an administrative region (or diocese) and houses the throne of a bishop (“catedra” from the Latin). Each church also serves as a regional centre and a focus of regional pride and affection.

While there are characteristics of each building which are distinctly English, these cathedrals are marked by their architecturaldiversity, both from one to another and also within each individual building. This is much more the case than in the medieval cathedrals of, for example, Northern France, where the cathedrals and large abbeys form a relatively homogenous group and the architectural development can easily be traced from building to building.

One of the points of interest of the English cathedrals is the way in which much of the history of medieval architecture can be demonstrated within a single building, which typically has important parts constructed in several different centuries with no attempt whatever to make the later work match or follow through on an earlier plan. For this reason a comprehensive architectural chronology must jump backwards and forwards from one building to another. Only at one building, Salisbury Cathedral, is stylistic unity demonstrated. (Read more...)

Selected biography

Robin Hood memorial statue in Nottingham.

Robin Hood is an archetypal figure in English folklore, whose story originates from medieval times but who remains significant in popular culture where he is painted as a man known for robbing the rich to give to the poor and fighting against injustice and tyranny. His band consists of a "seven score" group of fellow outlawed yeomen – called his "Merry Men". He has been the subject of numerous movies, television series, books, comics, and plays. In the earliest sources portrayed as a commoner he would often later be portrayed as the dispossessed Earl of Huntingdon. There is no consensus as to whether or not Robin Hood is based on any historical figure and little reliable historical evidence to support either side of this debate.

In popular culture Robin Hood and his band are usually seen as living in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. Much of the action of the early ballads does take place in Nottinghamshire, and the very earliest known ballad does show the outlaws operating in Sherwood Forest. So does the very first recorded Robin Hood rhyme, four lines from the beginning of the 15th century beginning "Robyn hode in scherewode stod" However, the overall picture from the surviving early ballads and other early references shows Robin Hood based in the Barnsdale area of what is now South Yorkshire (which borders Nottinghamshire), and other traditions also point to Yorkshire. A tradition dating back at least to the end of the 16th century gives his birthplace as Loxley in South Yorkshire, while the site of Robin Hood's Well in Yorkshire has been associated with Robin Hood at least since 1422. His grave has been claimed to be at Kirklees Priory in West Yorkshire, as implied by the 18th century version of Robin Hood's Death, and there is a headstone there of dubious authenticity.

Selected quotes

Summer is a-coming in, Sumer is icumen in,
Loudly sing cuckoo! Lhude sing cuccu!
It grows the seed Groweth sed,
And blows the mead, and bloweth med,
And springs the wood a new And springth the wude nu
Sing cuckoo! Sing cuccu!
Anonymous Middle English Lyric - Translation: Lewis Turco The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics

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Henry IV

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Mark Williamson
The Great Court of King's College Cambridge University build from founded in 1441 by King Henry VI. (read more . . . )

Topics

Early Middle Ages (7th to 11th centuries): England in the Early Middle AgesScotland in the Early Middle Ages, Wales in the Early Middle AgesAnglo-Saxon EnglandViking Age

High Middle Ages (11th to 15th centuries): England in the High Middle AgesScotland in the High Middle AgesWales in the High Middle AgesNorman England (1066-1154) • House of PlantagenetHouse of Dunkeld (1058–1286)House of Balliol (1292–1338)History of the Jews in Medieval England

Late Middle Ages (14th and 15th centuries): England in the Late Middle AgesScotland in the Late Middle AgesWales in the Late Middle AgesHouse of Lancaster (13991471) • House of York (14611485) • House of Bruce (1306–1371) • Transition to Early Modern Britain

Arts: English historians in the Middle AgesMedieval Welsh literatureAnglo-Saxon literatureAnglo-Norman literatureMiddle EnglishMedieval Scottish literatureAnglo-Saxon artViking Art

Conflict: Norman ConquestHundred Year WarWars of Scottish Independence


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