55 The History of Medieval Europe, Part I

From Charles Martel and the battle of Tours in 732, through Charlemagne and Otto the Great, the first installment concentrates on France, Germany and Italy and takes us to the shores of Gregory VIIth.

55 The History of Medieval Europe Part 1 rm

 

The Battle of Tours, 732

It is hotly debated as to whether or not Charles Martel’s victory over the Muslim armies in central France was the occasion that caused the Muslim tide to recede. Probably it’s not the cause but the event that marks it, but how ever you look at it the victory of probably 30,000 Franks over 75,000 previously unstoppable Muslim forces was hugely significant. Martel had prepared and trained his soldiers for this event, and his victory founded his dynasty – the Carolingian dynasty – which led to Charles the Great, Charlemagne.

The Empire of Charlemagne

Charlemagne’s Empire was a conscious attempt to re-create the glories of the Roman Empire of the west. Charlemagne put as much effort into reviving learning and spreading Christianity as he did into territorial expansion. None the less his Empire was huge, as the map shows (thanks to EB…).

Charlemagne was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo in 800. Charlemagne’s view of this event was very much that his servant, the Pope, was adding his support to his kingship. Pope Leo was trying to establish that Emperors only became Emperors when the Pope said so. This is an argument that will run and run.

Charlemagne becomes one of the touchstones of medieval Europe – just as he referred back to the Roman Empire,  so future kings would refer back to the glories of Charlemagne.

Charlemagne's Empire

Otto the Great and the Holy Roman Empire

After Charlemagne, his empire splits into three (see the small inset box map in map above). France, under  Charles the Bald and his descendants, fragments under the pressure of Viking raids and communication into a series of semi-independant states. The French king concentrates on the development of his own power within the Ile de France, and maintaining some lip service to their legal supremacy over the rest of the Western Franks. In the end, it’s a strategy that pays handsome dividends under Phillip Augustus.

The Eastern Franks choose a different route. Otto the Great took up the mantle of Charlemagne, and fought to maintain a new Roman, and Holy Empire. He defeated the Magyars at Lechfeld in 955, and finally put an end to the chaos. He brought the warring leaders of the German ‘Stem Duchies under royal control. He chose a unique way of ruling this still huge and disparate empire. The Ottonian system relied on the church to be partners in ruling his empire. Prince Bishops would not try to establish dynasties, for example, to break away from the Empire. For over 100 years, Otto’s system works beautifully, and his Empire dominates Germany and much of Italy. But it relied on control of church appointments and control of the Popes. Local churchmen, by and large, were happy enough – the Pope was not.

The Holy Roman Empire

 

13 thoughts on “55 The History of Medieval Europe, Part I

  1. Can’t believe you did this! Thank you so much – once again you’ve outshone yourself. A really brilliant run through of exactly what I was interested in. I salute you Mr. Crowther! Particularly for your excellent pronunciation of Magyars.
    I still maintain the best part of history is finding out all the wonderful royal cognomens (although I fear nothing can compare to Roland the Farter).

  2. Excellent ! And thanks for the idea, I’ve enjoyed it. I thought Henry the Quarrelsome could be used for a number of the members of my own family. Delighted that you are on my side on the Magyar debate, and not on the side of the doubters…

  3. I hope you mention a lot about prague and it’s role in things as im going on holiday soon 🙂 Anyway it’s very good.

  4. Great episode! How the carolingian empires collapse lead to the “real” holy roman empire was always a fuzzy mystery to me. This era is still a horribly tangled up mess (aren’t they all), but at least something got cleared up!

  5. The period between the end of the Western Roman Empire and the birth of medieval Europe has always been murky for me. On one end you have barbarian tribes, still mostly nomadic, and then on the other you have the kingdoms of Europe in their youth. I’ll definitely try to acquire a copy of that book you recommended.

  6. Another wonderful episode! I only recently discovered your podcast, and love it! I really wonder about the preoccupation with Germans placing towels on your deck chairs??? Clearly I’m missing something here, being American and all. I can’t wait to see what you have to say about us rotten, noisy, quarrelsome rebels when you get on to the colonial era 🙂 Keep up the great work!

  7. Ah yes, I really ought to explain the towels on sun loungers thing. Basically, it’s a cheap cultural gag about German Tourists. Before I start I should openly acknowledge that the British, or more specifically the English, define the phrase ‘hideous tourist’ but anyway.
    So, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of those resorts where you all share a swimming pool. There is a finite number of sun loungers, which is always smaller than the number of people wishing to lounge. So there’s a rush to get a sun lounger. No no matter how early in the morning you get up (9, 8…4..) there is always a German who has got up earlier and reerved the lounger by placing their towel on it.
    Clearly it’s a weak gag, but it’s made me feel better for all those hours spent lying on the concrete skirt of resort hotels.

  8. Ah, ’tis good to be back. I drifted off for a bit, you see. But I’m catching up again. Nice to see an overview of Medieval Europe, I think- it puts things in perspective.
    As to the towel commentary, I’m glad you translated it for those of us on this side of the pond. I must say, the German tourists can’t be any worse than some American female ones. I work at the King & Prince Beach Resort, so I should know! (At work now, as a matter of fact.) The spring season is upon us, and the demand for towels on our pool terrace is overwhelming. Our attendants take truckloads out there and in no time, the guests are clamoring for more. It’s not unusual to see some women with FOUR towels: one wrapped turban-style around the head, another around the shoulders, one around the waist, and one spread on the deck chair. They sunbathe and don’t even get into the pool, so all four towels end up in the hamper, still dry. (Grrr.)
    Do keep up the good work. I’m glad to see your following seems to be growing. Oh- did you get the coin we sent for the next giveaway? I’ve been offline and haven’t checked email or done anything web-related in WAY too long, so I’m out of touch. I don’t even know for sure if the winner of the last coin giveaway got his prize, though I would assume so, as I mailed it myself.
    ~RWS

  9. Ah, ’tis good to be back. I drifted off for a bit, you see. But I’m catching up again. Nice to see an overview of Medieval Europe, I think- it puts things in perspective.
    As to the towel commentary, I’m glad you translated it for those of us on this side of the pond. I must say, the German tourists can’t be any worse than some American female ones. I work at the King & Prince Beach Resort, so I should know! (At work now, as a matter of fact.) The spring season is upon us, and the demand for towels on our pool terrace is overwhelming. Our attendants take truckloads out there and in no time, the guests are clamoring for more. It’s not unusual to see some women with FOUR towels: one wrapped turban-style around the head, another around the shoulders, one around the waist, and one spread on the deck chair. They sunbathe and don’t even get into the pool, so all four towels end up in the hamper, still dry. (Grrr.)
    Do keep up the good work. I’m glad to see your following seems to be growing. Oh- did you get the coin we sent for the next giveaway? I’ve been offline and haven’t checked email or done anything web-related in WAY too long, so I’m out of touch. I don’t even know for sure if the winner of the last coin giveaway got his prize, though I would assume so, as I mailed it myself.
    ~RWS

  10. PS- when you mentioned “Mike” in the world of podcasting, I knew right away of whom you spoke. “Ray Harris”, however, was a mystery to me. So I Googled. Aha! A new history podcast to follow! Thanks for the suggestion. I won’t be abandoning The History of England, however. Still, that WW2 history podcast will give me something to do when Mike wraps up The History of Rome. (I tend to keep at least two podcasts going so I can listen to one when the other is between episodes.)

  11. ha – i actually listened to ‘europe since its origins’ before i knew about ‘the history of england’ podcast. i’m so glad you mentioned the grumpy spots in his commentary – wouldn’t want your listeners to get the impression that it that podcast series isn’t rife with daringly sweeping assumptions and generalizations about late roman and medieval motivations, especially religious ones, not to be outdone by his occasional but terribly unorthodox editorializations, that, to my memory, were both negative and supported by unbalanced research. still, it was nice to have the images and music presented along side the commentary.
    i’m so glad to have found ‘history of england’! you engage us listeners with your own added (and always well-informed) opinions, though you are kind enough to not take yourself too seriously, presumably for our sakes. some seem to use podcasting as a platform for their worldviews when they advertise as presenters of history. this podcast is thankfully quite above that.

  12. Hi Matt yes, I know what you mean about some sweeping assumptions; but I did enjoy the daring nature of the podcast – it has a point of view, and no mistake. I suspect that my grasp of the subject matter isn’t up to your standard. And thanks for the kind words!

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