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Medieval Europe

Knights take part in a joust.Knights take part in a joust. In Europe, the period from about AD 500 to 1500 is known as the Middle Ages, or the medieval period. The Middle Ages are said to have begun after the collapse of the Roman Empire and to end with the start of the Renaissance. The early part of this period was a time of invasions, including Viking raids and the conquest of England by Duke William of Normandy in 1066. The later centuries saw frequent wars between the kingdoms that covered Europe, including the so-called Hundred Years’ War fought between England and France (1337–1453).

The feudal system, with the king at the topThe feudal system, with the king at the top


During the Middle Ages, Europe became a patchwork of kingdoms, frequently warring amongst themselves. Most countries were ruled by a king—but only with the help of powerful lords. The king allowed the lords to own large tracts of land and build castles in return for a promise to fight for him in war. A lord could not control all his lands without help, so he gave some of it to knights in return for a promise to fight for him when the need arose. Also under the lord’s control were the people who lived on and farmed the land: the peasants. They were protected by the lord in return for giving him some of the crops they grew. This arrangement was known as feudalism.

Feudalism had its roots with the Franks, a group of Germanic tribes who had came to rule much of western Europe by the 700s. Frankish warriors pledged loyalty to a ruler or lord in return for some sort of protection and reward. Feudalism spread across Europe between the 800s and 1200s. But by the late 1200s, the system was beginning to fall apart. People began to make more use of money, preferring to pay rent for land than be bound by the feudal system. Lords, too, could pay for soldiers rather than reward them with land.

Since its completion in 1406, the castle of Malbork in present-day Poland, has been the largest brick castle in the world. Its outer walls enclose 21 hectares (52 acres), or 21 international rugby union fields.

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