Portal:Medieval Britain

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The Medieval Britain Portal

British kingdoms c 800.svg

Britain around the year 802

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

Statue of Llywelyn the Great at Conwy

Llywelyn the Great (Welsh Llywelyn Fawr, Welsh pronunciation: [ɬəˈwɛlɨ̞n]), full name Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, (c. 1173 – April 11, 1240) was a Prince of Gwynedd in North Wales and eventually de facto ruler over most of Wales. He is occasionally called Llywelyn I of Wales. By a combination of war and diplomacy he dominated Wales for forty years, and was one of only two Welsh rulers to be called 'the Great'. Llywelyn's main home and court throughout his reign was at Abergwyngregyn on the north coast of Gwynedd, between Bangor and Conwy, overlooking the port of Llanfaes. There is disagreement over which of two sites in Abergwyngregyn is more likely to have been the exact location of his hall.

During Llywelyn's boyhood Gwynedd was ruled by two of his uncles, who had agreed to split the kingdom between them following the death of Llywelyn's grandfather, Owain Gwynedd, in 1170. Llywelyn had a strong claim to be the legitimate ruler and began a campaign to win power at an early age. He was sole ruler of Gwynedd by 1200, and made a treaty with King John of England the same year. Llywelyn's relations with John remained good for the next ten years. He married John's illegitimate daughter Joan, also known as Joanna, in 1205, and when John arrested Gwenwynwyn ab Owain of Powys in 1208 Llywelyn took the opportunity to annex southern Powys. In 1210 relations deteriorated and John invaded Gwynedd in 1211. Llywelyn was forced to seek terms and to give up all his lands east of the River Conwy, but was able to recover these lands the following year in alliance with the other Welsh princes. He allied himself with the barons who forced John to sign Magna Carta in 1215. By 1216 he was the dominant power in Wales, holding a council at Aberdyfi that year to apportion lands to the other princes.

Following King John's death, Llywelyn concluded the Treaty of Worcester with his successor Henry III in 1218. During the next fifteen years Llywelyn was frequently involved in fighting with Marcher lords and sometimes with the king, but also made alliances with several of the major powers in the Marches. The Peace of Middle in 1234 marked the end of Llywelyn's military career as the agreed truce of two years was extended year by year for the remainder of his reign. He maintained his position in Wales until his death in 1240, and was succeeded by his son Dafydd ap Llywelyn. (read more . . . )

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Early fourteenth century embroidered bookbinding

Credit: unknown
The front cover of the Felbrigge Psalter which originally belonged to Anne a nun in Suffolk. The front cover is an illustration of the Annunciation embroidered on fine linen and probably dates to the early fourteenth centuryfine. (read more . . . )

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Henry IV

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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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