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Medieval Europe, 500-1500 CE
Overview, Key Understandings & Questions

Time Period Key Understandings

  • Power is constantly shifting between religious and political systems; this struggle for power leads to changing loyalties and conflict
  • Leaders who value education tend to have a stronger bureaucracy
  • Invading groups are driven by push and pull factors, in addition to geographic motives
  • Strict and stratified economic and social systems help bring stability to civilizations during times of political change or instability
  • Religious conflict can mask political motives
  • Trade increases opportunities for cultural diffusion but also economic independence
  • Conflict can help to solidify centralization of power and the development of nationalism
  • Political conflict and war is detrimental to local economies
  • Historically, marriage was used to create and reinforce alliances and for economic gain
  • Issues of authority and jurisdiction can cause disagreement and disunity among religious entities
  • Political and economic stability can allow for social growth and a rediscovery or advancement of knowledge
  • Focus on the self, or humanism, can lead to more secular social practice
  • The Italian and Northern Renaissance led to advancements in art, literature, and science

Key Questions


  • How did Charlemagne change Western Europe from its state after Rome's fall? How did the structure of the Church influence Charlemagne's administration?
  • What made Charlemagne's military so effective? How did Charlemagne use his military conquests to create a "New Rome"?
  • How did Charlemagne promote scholarship and educational reform? Why do you think he believed learning was such an important part of establishing his empire?
  • What example did Charlemagne set for later European rulers?

Feudalism and the Three Orders

  • How did the feudal system benefit both lords and vassals? What does this system reveal about the need for military defense during the Middle Ages? How might feudal relationships become complicated?
  • Why was land such an important resource during the Middle Ages? How did ownership of land affect one's place in society?
  • Why did members of the clergy hold a high social status? What contributions were they expected to make to medieval society?
  • How did manorialism affect most of medieval Europe's population? How did the rise of urban centers bring about a shift in medieval society's structure?

The Crusades

  • Why were Europeans motivated to participate in the Crusades? Why did Christians and Muslims both claim a right to the Holy Land?
  • What factors allowed the crusaders' victory in the First Crusade? How did that victory change the political status of the conquered areas?
  • How did the later crusades differ from the First Crusade? Why do you think some of the later crusades were directed against new, non-Muslim targets?
  • Why is Richard the Lionhearted remembered as an iconic crusader?

Cathedrals and Trade Fairs

  • Why was the High Middle Ages a time of economic growth and innovation?
  • What did trade fairs contribute to the economy of medieval Europe? How did trade fairs aid the development of local industries?
  • Why did the use of money increase during the High Middle Ages? How did money and banking help medieval society grow and expand?
  • What functions did cathedrals hold in medieval towns? Why do you think towns were willing to take on the expense and effort needed to build a cathedral?

European Monarchies

  • How was power divided among monarchs, nobles, and the Church during the early Middle Ages? How did this change during the High Middle Ages?
  • How did the growth of urban economies boost the power of monarchs? What role did technological innovations play in this trend?
  • Why were monarchs of the High Middle Ages able to successfully challenge the authority of the Church? What did this mean for the role of the Church in society?
  • How did the growing power of monarchs affect medieval society as a whole?

Marriage and Family Alliances

  • What were the goals of aristocratic marriages during the High Middle Ages? What kinds of factors were considered in arranging marriages between nobles?
  • Why did the marriages of Eleanor of Aquitaine have so much political significance? How did her marriages affect the power dynamics of Europe?
  • Why was land ownership of such importance for the aristocracy? How were inheritance customs tied to the attention placed on marriage?
  • Why do you think aristocrats often had future spouses chosen for them while they were still children? Why was marriage among non-nobility different from that of the nobility?

The Black Death

  • How did people's religious beliefs influence their reaction to the Black Death? Why were doctors' responses so unsuccessful?
  • Why do you think the poor were generally hit harder by the Black Death than were the wealthy? Why would cities often be affected more strongly than rural areas?
  • How did the Black Death impact the economy of medieval Europe? How did this bring about social changes?
  • What might be some long-term effects of the Black Death on European populations? Why might it be difficult to determine whether the Black Death alone was responsible for changes occurring at the time?

The Hundred Years' War

  • How did rivalry between England and France lead to the Hundred Years' War? What role did aristocratic marriages play in creating this rivalry?
  • Why was England so successful in the early part of the war? How did the French become more successful in the later part of the war?
  • How were France and England altered by the Hundred Years' War? How did European warfare change after the Hundred Years' War?

The Great Schism

  • What does the Great Schism reveal about the Church's ties to political power? Why do you think there was so much internal rivalry within the Church?
  • How were the religious beliefs of some people in Europe changing at the time of the Great Schism? How might this influence people's view of political struggles within the Church?
  • How did the reputation of the papacy change as a result of the Great Schism? Why did the Great Schism help motivate later movements to reform the Church?

The Italian Renaissance

  • How was the Italian Renaissance a "rebirth"? How did the concept of humanism influence the growth of the Renaissance? Why was it significant that literature began to be written in vernacular languages during the Renaissance?
  • Why is Leonardo da Vinci often described as the prime example of a "Renaissance Man"? How did his artistic and scientific contributions express Renaissance interests and ideas?
  • Why did Italian city-states like Florence become the home of the Renaissance? How did wealthy individuals contribute to the creation of Renaissance art? What might be some motivations for such individuals to support artists?

The Northern Renaissance

  • How did humanism influence the development of the Northern Renaissance? How was the Northern Renaissance connected to the Protestant Reformation?
  • Why was the printing press such an influential invention? How did it contribute to the Northern Renaissance?
  • How did artistic styles and subjects during the Northern Renaissance differ from those more typical of the Middle Ages? How did these artistic developments reflect the humanistic ideas of the Northern Renaissance?
  • What was the legacy of the Northern Renaissance for European society and culture?

MLA Citation

"Medieval Europe, 500-1500 Ce." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/2158290. Accessed 26 May 2019.

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Entry ID: 2158290

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