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Medieval Frequently Asked Questions (History)

Here are the most common questions we've been receiving regarding the Middle Ages. To have a question answered, send us an e-mail.

When did The Middle Ages start? When did they end?

Most historians have agreed that it stretches from the Fall of the Western Roman Empire to the Fall of the Eastern Roman Empire. This period spans approximately a thousand years beginning from the year 476 to the year 1453 respectively. However, this depends based on the source.

What was it like to live during the Middle Ages?

In general, life during this period was characterized with a lack of food, safety and other basic needs. However, this depended greatly on the social status of the person. While the king enjoyed a luxurious life, poor peasants were often starving and many died from diseases and lack of medical care. Read here for more information about the period.

Who was the first king of England?

Alfred the Great's grandson, King Aethelstan (924-939) was the first true king of all England. When Alfred came to the throne, England was separated into five different kingdoms. During Alfred's reign, Cornwall came under his command, but three other kingdoms fell to the Viking invaders. Alfred then fought against the Vikings restoring his old kingdom, but he gave half the country to the Viking warlord Guthrum. In turn, the Vikings converted to Christianity. By his grandson's reign, he had re-occupied all England leaving King Aethelstan as the first complete English king.

Why were castles built?

There were several reasons. The most important was to provide the defenders with an advantage against any army that dared to attack. However, castles also provided other psychological benefits. A peasant who was often reminded of his safety by looking at the castle everyday was more productive than one who lived in constant fear. Castles successfully stopped the Viking Age, in a way, because they eliminated the element of surprise which the Vikings depended so greatly on. Some castles were enormous providing yet more psychological benefits. When William the Conqueror built The Tower of London, he did so to remind the English of his rule while he traveled to Normandy.

How were women treated during the Middle Ages?

It depended on several factors. We have written a complete article here.

Which was the most painful torture?

We get this questions asked a lot. It obviously depends. Some believe that The Rack was the most painful, but there's obviously no sure way to tell. Visit the Torture Section for more information.

Did the king have total power?

It depends on the time and place you're referring to. While some kings did possess absolute power, others were more symbolical. Kings were very powerful throughout the Middle Ages. Some countries had laws allowing the king to do as he pleased with anyone.

What were some of the reasons for the Crusades?

The Crusades escalated from the first one. Because of a general lack of warfare in Europe, the armies had little to do but fight against each other. When the Pope received news that the Byzantine Empire was threatened and that the Christian pilgrims who wanted to visit Jerusalem were frequently killed, he found the excuse he needed. The Crusades served to increase faith in Christianity. Read more about The Crusades.

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