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The changes in society in the middle ages

The growth of towns "Urban" society: In the High Middle Ages, towns and cities had several functions. They were the places where agricultural surplus was turned into cash; where goods were made, shipped, and stored; and where the Church located its administration and its schools.

The complexity of the urban social structure reflected these multiple functions. Most people in towns and cities were free peasants or escaped serfs who did unskilled labor.

Unskilled laborers were the bottom rung of the urban social hierarchy, but living in towns offered the prospect of paid work and greater freedom from aristocratic control. Many towns and most cities had been special legal charters granted by the king, prince, or archbishop whoever had sovereignty over the town. These legal charters gave the town or city "privileges," like protection from the authority and interference of the rural nobility. Artisans and small shop-keepers were the next rung up on the social hierarchy.

Master artisans highly skilled craftsmen who owned their own tools and did all aspects of the work to make a product belonged to "guilds.

  1. The bankers belonged to the bankers guild. It was then bought by merchants, who transported it to other towns and cities for sale.
  2. Henry I, 1100-1135; and Henry II, 1154-1189 strengthened the power of the central monarchical government.
  3. Often conflicts between these competing sources of authority gave rise to new political theories and laws. Epic tales of warrior heroism, such as Beowulf, gave way to romances celebrating courtly love and knightly chivalry, exemplified in Arthurian books such as The Quest of the Holy Grail and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
  4. Others, such as Peter Abelard, put reason first.
  5. But Fredrick II overextended imperial power and pushed conflict with the Papacy to the point of being excommunicated.

Guilds limited the number of people practicing their trade, controlled prices and wagesand regulated the quality of goods. The guilds also supervised and coordinated most other aspects of an artisans' life, including Christian religious services and festivals, charitable societies, and most forms of sociability.

To become an artisan, you began as an unpaid "apprentice," and spent several years learning a trade. The apprentice then became a journeyman, a paid worker for a master artisan. If the journeyman produced a "masterpiece" accepted by the guild, and the guild considered the market strong enough to absorb increased production, then he would be accepted into the guild as a master.

Merchants in medieval towns and cities also organized guilds that obtained royal charters and exclusive privilege to sell certain goods. There were several "levels" of merchant guilds: Merchant guilds were closed to women, Jews, and Muslims. Like artisans' guilds, they organized more than just economic life, and were the focal point of merchants' social worlds as well.

The wealthy merchants' guilds had more political power than the artisans and small shop keepers, and they often controlled town governments. Towns and cities were overcrowded, ramshackle, and filthy. Largest cities like Paris and London had farm fields and pastures within city limits, animals in the unpaved streets, etc. Most buildings were made wood, tightly packed into crowded streets, and lacked adequate light and ventilation.

Medieval cities had no running water and no sewerage systems. People piled their garbage and filth in the courtyards, and sewerage ran through the streets.

Cites were often hit by epidemics we will discuss the great plagues of the 1300s. Towns and the "Commercial Revolution": The wool trade is a good example: It was then bought by merchants, who transported it to other towns and cities for sale. Trade, including trade in luxury goods, stimulated the growth of ports and market towns and great market fairs.

Most luxury goods came from Asia spices, silks, etcthrough cities in northern Italy. This depended on the availability of venture capital and the willingness of merchants to take risks. Italian merchants adopted new business methods, such as double-entry accounting based upon use of Arabic numbers the Arabic system of banking, and the use of bills of credit which made it easier to raise investment capital and made commercial ventures less risky.

Some new business practices, like charging interest, violated principles of the Catholic Church. But the "commercial revolution" started important long term social trends—the expansion of market forces, the growing commercialization of everyday life, and the growth of a commercial and professional "middle class. City-States and Feudal Principalities After the collapse of the Carolingian Empire, some large cities—especially in northern Italy, Flanders Belgiumand northern Spain—established systems of self-government.

Some were ruled by a king, prince, feudal lord, or the Church, but had charters of liberty. Many Northern European cities had elected councils and mayors chosen by the merchant guilds.

In Northern Italy some cities had no royal overlords; in those cities, citizens elected councils and "communes" that controlled local government. Some cities were Republics, free of princely rule. Oligarchies of wealthy guild merchants often dominated local governments, but faced resistance from the artisans and lower classes.

Also, there often was in-fighting between families of oligarchs. Lords and Vassals In some Western European states, a relatively de-centralized kind of feudal monarchical rule took form in the changes in society in the middle ages 900s-1100.

Kings claimed absolute power in principle, but in practice they could not impose centralized rule. Instead, aristocratic counts and dukes built castles and ruled over fiefdoms. Some, for example, minted their own coins and raised their own armies. Kings in the 1100s and 1200s tried to end this kind of aristocratic independence. They insisted on loyalty from aristocrats. The feudal political system of lords and vassals was based on a hierarchy of power. The Lords--Kings and princes--gave the dukes and counts "gifts" fiefdoms of land and the right to exploit revenues from that land.

In return, the "vassals" swore loyalty and service "homage" to their "lord.

Social Change in the Late Middle Ages

The process of building feudal national monarchies was most advanced in England and least advanced in Spain. Examples of Feudal Monarchies: England The feudal monarchy in England grew out of the Norman Conquest. William gave fiefdoms in England to Norman aristocrats and also required feudal service from the clergy in return for land grants. Still, power in English feudalism was relatively centralized ---the King controlled taxation, the minting of currency, the raising of armies, etc.

Henry I, 1100-1135; and Henry II, 1154-1189 strengthened the power of the central monarchical government. Henry I began building a government bureaucracy made up of trained clerks and judges. Henry II forced the English Church to recognize the authority of royal law over the clergy thus his famous conflict with Thomas Becket.

This had three very important consequences: The principle that fee Englishmen had legal rights became very import in the reign of King John 1199-1216. In 1204, John's armies lost control of English-ruled territories in Northern France. John needed to fund a military campaign against French King Philip Augustus, but Richard's wars and Crusade had drained the royal coffers. So John imposed huge fines on the English nobles and raised taxes—steps the nobles claimed were abuses of royal power and violations of the law and of Englishmen's rights.

In 1215,the great aristocratic families forced John to sign the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta did nothing to decentralize government, which became even more centralized under John's successor, Henry III 1216-1272.

The Parliament was a gathering the changes in society in the middle ages representatives of the aristocrats and to a lesser extent townsmen, called by the King to consider such matters of state as the imposition of taxes and the drafting of laws.

France The history of centralized monarchy in France differed from that in England. Hugh Capet, who followed the last Carolingian king in 987, inherited a very weak monarchy that had little direct control over the countryside or the aristocracy.

Between 1000 and 1300, the Capetian kings gradually built a powerful centralized monarchy from their base in Paris. Both strengthened feudal overlordship in central and western France. Philip imposed direct royal rule over newly conquered territories by using royal agents "baillis"—like the English sheriffsand who balanced centralized authority with concessions to local and regional traditions.

In return for Papal support they waged campaigns against heresy and against the Jews in newly-acquired territories in the south of France. Creation of new state institutions is best exemplified by Philip IV 1285-1314who created the "Estates General"—a gathering of representatives of the King's free subjects, which the king could use to implement new taxes or issue new laws. In France, however, the aristocracy won no charter of rights, and the function of the French parliaments remained purely consultative.

Germany Circa 1000, Germany was made up of many principalities ruled by dukes and counts who were subservient to a powerful Emperor. The Emperor claimed authority over Church institutions and appointed bishops and archbishops; church officials often ruled territories for the Emperor.

But in the mid-1000s the relationship between the German Emperor and the Papacy broke down. During the reign of Emperor Henry IV 1056-1106the nobles of Saxony rebelled against royal policies and Pope Gregory VII 1073-1085 declared that the Emperor had no power over the church administration. But civil war in Saxony and conflict between the Papacy and the Emperor continued. By the death of Henry V in 1125 the German nobility had taken advantage of the Emperor's weakness to become functionally independent.

After Henry V's death, the nobles who ruled Germany principalities "elected" each new emperor who was then appointed by the Pope. Both the nobles and the Church had an interest in keeping Imperial power weak and limited. He claimed that his rule, like that of Justinian and Charlemagne, was based on God's blessing. Barbarossa re-established Imperial influence in northern Italy and the Pope agreed that northern Italian cities would paid tribute to the emperor.

But Fredrick II overextended imperial power and pushed conflict with the Papacy to the point of being excommunicated. By his death, the empire was engulfed in civil war. Real power belonged to hundreds of princes, counts, and dukes who ruled their own territories. German re-unification would not come again until 1871. Not yet a national monarchy: The "reconquista" re-conquest of Iberia by Christian rulers would take several centuries.

By 1300, Iberia Spain was divided into a Muslim kingdom of Granada in the south; the large central kingdom of Castile; the western kingdom of Portugal; and the two northern kingdoms of Navarre and Aragon. Spain would not be unified until the late 1400s. The growth of tarde in Western Europe was linked to the Crusades, and the Crusades were linked to the history of Byzantium. So, what was happening in the Byzantine Empire in 1000-1300? Byzantium began a revival in the 900s: But Byzantium soon fell again into decline.

After 1025, a series of weak emperors allowed the aristocrats to strengthen the changes in society in the middle ages hold over the countryside expropriate its wealth which reduced royal tax revenues.

To make up for lost revenues, the government devalued its currency; that hurt Byzantium's international trade.