Historical Eras of British Middle Ages
Early Britain—43 to 800
Roman Conquest of Britain to First Viking Raid
The British isles were originally settled by Celtic tribes, a race of tall, fair-skinned, but non-Germanic people. They were known for their druid priests, colorful fabrics, clever metal-working, and ferocious warrior spirit. The Romans had extensive contact with the Gauls, or southern Celts, who inhabited most of Western Europe, and by the time they sought to take possession of the British Isles, they had already conquering most of Celtic Gaul (France) and Hispania (Spain). B.C. and succeeded in vanquishing a local tribe, but he did not follow up his victories by establishing permanent forts in the region.was the first Roman conqueror who sent ships across the channel in order to subdue the Britons in 54
Britain faired well under Roman rule. Many roads were built, trade and commerce thrived, and as Christianity spread throughout the empire, many native Celts became Christian.who was put to death shortly before legalized Christianity, is known for being the first Christian martyr in Britain. was a Celtic Christian who left Britain in 433 as a missionary to Ireland, and is well known for converting most of the Irish to Christianity. The Celtic Christians in both Britain and Ireland built monasteries, which were important repositories of learning. It was mostly the great Celtic Christians, lead by saints such as , , , , and , that kept Christianity alive in the British Isles during the years of struggle with Teutonic invaders.
In 402, Rome officially withdrew its legions from Britain, leaving the Celts to fend for themselves against the Pictish savages of the north and the Saxon pirates who raided the coastal towns. The Jutes, Angles, and Saxons were three northern German tribes and were well aware of the good roads, wealthy towns, and productive farmland that could be found in Britain. Almost as soon as the Roman legions were gone, these German tribes began their incursions. The first known Jute settlers were. , a Celtic king, sought their help in defeating his enemies and invited them in, but he soon regretted permitting them to settle in Britain, for they brought more of their tribemen and soon threatened the Celtic kingdoms. There followed several centuries of , at the end of which the "Anglo-Saxon" barbarians were the uncontested rulers of the rich and prosperous southeast lowlands. The great Celtic heroes of these wars were the legendary and his Knights of the Round Table, but we know little of this struggle between the Celts and Saxons other than that the Christian Celts had been driven to the far reaches of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. Much of what we know about Britain in these Dark Ages was given to us by monks such as , who lived in monasteries in the British Isles which had been established by the 700's.
The next important event in British history was the conversion of, a Saxon king, to Christianity by the Roman missionary . The Saxons were too proud to be converted by the despised Celts, but they were impressed by the embassy from Rome, and gradually Saxon England became Christian. The Celtic and Saxon churches continued to be governed independently and were not officially joined for many years after Saxon Britain became Christian.
Saxons and Normans—800 to 1154
House of Wessex to Death of Stephen
At the end of the eighth century, the Saxons suffered their first attack by the Danes—also known as Vikings—a warlike race of pagans from Denmark and Norway. Shortly thereafterunified the Saxon and Angle kingdoms for the purpose of common defense, and at that time the name of England (or Angle Land) was given to the country. Saxon kings descended from Egbert ruled the Kingdom of Wessex from 802 until shortly before the Norman conquest in 1066. The continued for the next hundred and fifty years until the Danes finally drove the Wessex king into exile. By that time, however, many of the Danes had become Christian and the age of Vikings was coming to a close.
Alfred the Great and the Danish Invasion
There were several other important Saxon kings., Alfred's grandosn, defeated a united army of Celts and Danes at the battle of Brunanburh. He, like his father and grandfather, was an excellent king. Unfortunately, by the beginning of the eleventh century, a series of ‘boy’ kings greatly weakened the Wessex monarchy. This series of immature rulers finally ended with , who misgoverned his entire reign and was driven from the throne. For a time his son co-ruled with a Danish king, but eventually died, leaving a Dane as king of the Saxons. Fortunately, the Danish king's son, ruled well and again brought peace between the Saxons and Danes. When he died , the youngest son of Aethelred, was restored to the throne. He died without issue, bringing the Wessex line to an end, and William the Duke of Normandy, who was of Norse stock, won the throne at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
The Norman Conquest
Thewas one of the most important events in the history of England. The Saxon kings were never as powerful as the Dukes of Normandy, for the Normans had inherited the old Roman habits of centralized government whereas the Saxons kings were merely overlords of their earls and barons. William the Conqueror ruled England firmly but fairly hand, making sure that taxes were collected and justice was done in a uniform manner. He crushed all rebellions and replaced most of the Saxon overlords with Norman nobles. He made many changes in the government, all of which resulted in a relatively strong and independent central government and curtailed the power of the nobles. He was an effective king, but very unpopular with the Saxon population.
The house of Norman only lasted for three generations. After William died, his sonruled. When he was killed in a hunting accident, his brother ruled for 35 years, and also died without a male heir. The throne of England was then contested between Henry’s daughter and her cousin , a weak king favored by the mischievous barons. With the throne as good as vacant, the barons were allowed to have their own way, and civil wars plagued the country for almost 20 years. Finally, the Matilda's son, better known as , fought his way to the throne; during his long reign, order and prosperity were restored to the realm.
Plantagenet Kings—1154 to 1485
Henry II Plantagenet to Battle of Bosworth Field
Henry Plantagenet and Sons
Henry Plantagenet, the founder of the Plantagenet line, was the grandson of, and the great-grandson of . He inherited the throne through his mother, but had to fight to establish his claim. He married another very powerful monarch, , heir to the duchy of Aquitaine, so between the two they eventually controlled much of France as well as all of England. Henry spent much of his reign in various wars, consolidating his power. He had four sons, two of whom became king. The elder son, , is best known as a crusader. He spent almost his entire reign away from England, leaving the country in the hands of his devious brother . John was one of the worst kings that England ever had and managed to lose most of the land in France that he had inherited from his parents. Finally, , and the barons forced him to sign the Magna Carta, limiting his power.
Edwards I, II, and III
John’s sonsupposedly ruled for 56 years, but for much of that time his brother-in-law, , governed in his place and orchestrated the Parliament. When Henry III’s son came to the throne the people rejoiced because they finally had a king who was half Saxon and spoke English instead of French, which had been the language of the ruling class since the Norman Conquest. He proved to be a competent king, and brought Wales, Ireland, and Scotland under his sway. His hold on Ireland was never strong though, and shortly after his death from England at the Battle of Bannockburn. The Edward I's son was a no-account king with very unpopular favorites. He was deposed in favor of his young son , who ruled for fifty years and got England involved in the with France. There were several important battles in the hundred years war, the first two being Crecy and Poitiers. England won both battles against great odds, but never succeeded in establishing Edward III’s claim to the French throne.
The Edward III's eldest son was, a great warrior who was very popular with the people, but who never became king because he died before the long-lived Edward III. The crown then passed to the Black Prince’s son , who was unpopular and was eventually deposed in favor of his cousin (IV). Unfortunately Henry IV was not the next in line for the throne, but his selection was not resisted because his father John of Gaunt had been regent during most of Richard II’s reign. The issue was not pressed for two generations but later became the cause of a great civil war.
Lancasters and Yorks
Henry Bolingbroke's son was, famous for his victory over the French at Agincourt. Henry V reopened the Hundred Years War and came close to gaining the French crown, but he died only a few years after his great victory. He left a young son, , who was a peace-loving and studious man, but a weak leader. During his reign the French rallied under and reclaimed all of the land England had won, bringing an end to the hundred year war, and the king became extremely unpopular. Seein his opportunity, his cousin, the , made a claim for the throne. He denied Henry Bolingbroke's claim three generations back, which led to the disastrous , in which the Lancaster and the York lines vied for the throne. The plots turns and reverses of this war are difficult to follow, but the main contenders were not the monarchs themselves, but rather the , cousin to the Duke of York, and , Henry VI's wife. The war proved bitter and deadly, and many great nobles lost their lives. It also greatly enhanced the power of the king, since the king was allowed to confiscate the estates of any noble that rose in rebellion to him; as the kingship passed back and forth between the Lancasters and Yorks, almost every house was at some point in alliance with a "rebel".
The Yorks were finally victorious, but they came to a bad end. Edward IV ruled for 22 years, but when he died, his brotherplotted to usurp the throne by killing his Edward's young sons. This accomplished, he found he had made many enemies, and when (VII), a distant relative on the Lancaster side brought an army against him, several of his generals deserted him. Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings was killed on the battlefield of Bosworth, bringing the noble line that had ruled England for three centuries to an inglorious end.
Tudors and Reformation—1485 to 1603
Henry VII Tudor to Death of Elizabeth I
was descended from John of Lancaster, but his claim to the throne was no greater than those of many other distant Plantagenet descendants. Soon after defeating Richard III at Bosworth fields, he married the daughter of the Yorkist king Edward IV in order to join the York and Lancaster houses into a single line. He then ruled with diplomacy and tried to avoid war and give England time to recover from the dislocations of the ruinous War of the Roses. Many doubted his claim, but few were willing to reopen the issue.
Henry VIII and the Break with Rome
Henry Tudor's sonascended to the throne in 1509 and ruled for 38 years. His reign coincided with the outbreak of the Protestant reformation in Europe, and during his reign that England became a Protestant country. England's conversion to Protestantism remains controversial because, although there were many sincere churchmen who favored reforms, the manner in which Henry VIII broke England's ties with the church of Rome was highly opportunistic. There were two issues which motivated Henry VIII to declare the Act of Supremacy. One was to remove any obstacles to his divorce from his wife of 20 years, Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry . The second, just as important, was for an excuse to dissolve monasteries, an issue which his minster had been pushing in spite of tremendous outcry from the poor who depended on the monasteries for their living. It was true that several of the monasteries were very wealthy and corrupt, but instead of reforming them, Henry VIII closed them, turned hundreds of their inmates out onto the streets, and sold their lands to his friends and nobles for cash. Once this great theft had transpired there was no turning back, for a great many of the nobles of England were in possession of valuable property that the Roman Church claimed as its own. Henry outlawed the Catholic church, and executed hundreds of people who opposed him. Most of those who were executed under Henry's reign, including both the Catholic and the Protestant Thomas Cromwell, did not suffer directly from persecution based on their beliefs, but were killed because they stood in the way of Henry's schemes.
Henry left three children by three different wives. His only son,, reigned for six years, but was under the sway of his uncles, the Dukes of Somerset and Northumberland. Both were Protestants who had benefited greatly from the dissolution of the monasteries and were primarily interested in consolidating their own power. Like Henry VIII, they persecuted Catholics based on political factors rather than ideology. When Edward VI fell ill, the Duke of Northumberland arranged for his young cousin to assume the throne, since he believed she would be easier to control than , Edward’s elder sister. However, most people believed that Mary had a better right to the throne and supported her claim, even though she was known to have Catholic sympathies.
Mary Tudor was a sincere Catholic, and as soon as she came to the throne tried her best to mend the breach with the Church of Rome. By this time, however, Protestantism was fairly well established, especially among the aristocracy and the merchant class. Her greatest miscalculation was to take, the most powerful Catholic monarch in Europe, for her husband. Even among devout Catholic Englishmen, Spain was feared and hated because they controlled all of the trade with the new world and were the world's predominant sea power. To make matters worse, her marriage was an unhappy one and did not produced an heir as Mary hoped. Mary is said to have put over three hundred people to death in her efforts to restore the faith, which is no more than her predecessors did. However, being a sincere Catholics instead of merely a cynical politician, she harassed some of the most able and articulate Protestant leaders for their heretical beliefs, which made her unpopular with those who genuinely sympathized with the protestant cause.
Elizabeth I and the Great Armada
During Mary's reign, her sisterwas accused of a conspiracy against her and imprisoned. She was still being closely watched when news came that her sister had passed away and she was the Queen of England. She was only 24 at the time she became queen and her reign lasted over 45 years. Elizabeth was exceptionally politic in her manner of ruling, and although Protestant she sought to ease the religious strife of the times, and did not aggressively persecute Catholics. Whenever possible she tried to avoid direct conflict. She never married, but kept dozens of suitors on the line, presumably to gain favors. She signed a death warrant for her arch-rival, , but protested loudly when she was executed. It was often difficult to discern her true motives, but she lived in troublsome times, and her two-faced demeanor may well have been discreet diplomacy. For example, England’s relationship with Spain was very poor for many years, but she managed to put off direct confrontation for nearly three decades by obfuscations and ambiguous promises. When the Spanish finally did invade, the entire country united against them. The defeat of the Spanish Armada was the decisive battle of the and profoundly affected the perceived strength of England and Spain, both in Europe and in the New World.
The reign of Elizabeth is best known for her outstanding sea-men., , Sir John Hawkins, and were some of the men who made great names for themselves before, after, and during the Spanish Armada. It is also known for some of the literary greats of the time, including , , Ben Jonson and .
Stuarts and Civil War—1603 to 1714
James I Stuart to Death of Anne
The reign of the Stuarts, lasting from 1603 to 1714, coincided almost exactly with the 17th century and was the most significant in English history in terms of formation of modern ideas of political and religious liberty. By the end of the Stuart reign, England was governed primarily by a democratically elected parliament and the idea of "freedom of conscience" was well established. Obviously these ideas had not yet been followed to their ultimate conclusion, since only the wealthiest class was allowed to vote and Catholics were still persecuted, but it was Englishmen living under the turbulent Stuart reign who laid the foundations for western style democracy and religious pluralism, an achievement unparalleled by any other nation, even within Christendom.
The problem of reporting on the evolution of ideas is that ideas are complicated and controversial, whereas events are relatively straight forward. The "dictates of conscience" were not a particularly important factor during the, for example, since loyalty by all parties was determined primarily through self-interest. The , on the other hand, were the result of a convoluted mixture of strongly held religious principles, ideals of self-government, dismay at the corruption of existing institutions, loyalty to traditional institutions, and good old-fashioned self-interest. There were brave and heroic men on all sides (not both sides, for this was a many-sided conflict) as well opportunists and tyrants. Bearing in mind the complexities of the situation, the Stuart reign proceeded as follows:
When Elizabeth died, the crown passed to her grand-nephew,, (a.k.a. James VI of Scotland). Scotland was governed independently of England at the time, but was a much poorer and more backward nation. Like England, Scotland had been greatly affected by the reformation, but instead of merely breaking with Rome and establishing a state church, the Scottish Presbyterians favored more radical Calvinist style reforms, which did away entirely with the priesthood, the organized church, and the liturgy. This was important because although the Catholic religion had already been proscribed in England by the beginning of the Stuarts' reign, the worst persecutions and religious wars in England’s history were still to come. Rather than between Protestants and Catholics, they were between two forms of Protestantism. These antagonists were the Anglicans, who urged preservation of much of the traditional liturgy and organization, and the Puritans, who favored the complete abolition of an established church.
Although James had grown up entirely under the sway of the Presbyterian Scots, he was by no means sympathetic to many of their ideas. He saw that rejecting the ideal of traditional authority was but a step towards rejecting the idea of a king. The Scots as a whole were greatly bound by traditional loyalty to their Stuart kings, who had ruled in Scotland for hundreds of years, but there were radicals among the Presbyterians with dangerous ideas regarding self-government. James therefore allied himself with the interests of the Anglican Church and repressed the non-conformists in England. It was during the reign of James that the Puritans settled the New England colonies in America. Other important events of the reign of James I included a failed Catholic rebellion called theand the publication of the King James Bible.
Charles I and the English Civil War
James I quarreled with his Parliament, which was becoming more sympathetic to the cause of the Puritans, but a full scale war between Parliament and the king did not break out until the reign of his son. Compared to previous kings Charles I was not particularly tyrannical, but the disposition of Parliament had changed considerably since the age of the Tudors. England was becoming a wealthy and powerful trading nation; the cities were growing larger; the middle-class was rising in importance; gunpowder and long-bows had changed the nature of warfare; and the old ideas of being ruled by a landed aristocracy was resisted by many of the best men of the nation. The ideas of self-government and freedom of conscience in religious matters were hopelessly intermixed, but when war finally broke out the essential division was between the traditionalists, who supported the king and the Anglican Church, and the Puritans, who supported more rights for Parliament and the disestablishment of the state church. From the very beginning, however, loyalties were mixed on both sides. For example, about a third of Parliament decided to fight for the king, and many Scots who opposed the Anglican Church were entirely loyal to their Stuart king.
Cromwell and the Commonwealth
After the first phase of the(1642-1645), the king was captured. Parliament and the army sought a compromise but could not find one. The king was eventually beheaded by his enemies, but even this brought no closure to the conflict. The civil war continued to rage, first in Ireland and then in Scotland. The man who had come to the fore during the civil war was , whose highly disciplined "Ironsides" had brought Parliament the victory. He was an extremely controversial figure, who, like Charles I, attempted to dissolve parliament when it disagreed with him. He presided over the Commonwealth of England, ruling essentially as a dictator. During this period the Anglican church was disestablished and many prominent families, including the ancestors of some of America’s founding fathers, moved to Virginia, a royalist stronghold. Cromwell did much to advance the cause of religious freedom for everyone but Catholics and Anglicans, but was extremely unpopular with the general population, who decided that the only thing worse than a lax and corrupt government was a stringent and incorruptible government.
The Restoration and "Glorious Revolution"
When Cromwell died, therefore, one of his Puritan generals proposed ro restoreto the throne as long as he promised to respect the rights of Parliament and the religious freedom of the Puritans. Naturally this did not resolve the issue; persecutions and abuses continued. Charles II's reign was wrought with crises, including a terrible plague, the great fire of London, and an invasion by the Dutch navy. But although troubles and controversies continued between the monarchy and parliament, the inclination to turn to civil war to resolve them was abated. A crisis within the monarchy did not arise again until the death of Charles II, at which time his brother , a Catholic, ascended to the throne. His attempt to pass laws granting tolerance and opportunities to Catholics united the always feuding Protestants in hysterical opposition, and within a short time he was driven from the throne in favor of his daughter and son-in-law, who were loyal Protestants. The English refer to this as the "glorious revolution" because it was accomplished almost entirely without bloodshed on English soil although it did result in the in Ireland and Scotland. and Mary assumed the throne at the behest of Parliament, thereby permanently establishing the precedence of Parliament over royal prerogative.
After Mary's death her sister Anne assumed the throne. During the remainder of the Stuart reign the idea that one could accomplish political change through elected representatives rather than by petitioning a sovereign took hold and party politics became the accepted way of doing business. The Royalists became the Tory or conservative party, and the Whig, party represented the old Roundhead cause. A few other notable things occurred during Anne’s reign. Her best general, the, won a great victory in France at the battle of Blenheim, a critical turning point in the . This was very important in terms of curtailing the power of who was by far the most important monarch of the age. Also, the Act of Union in 1707 permanently united Scotland and England into the country of Great Britain by combining the two parliaments. Finally, the Act of Settlement established that when Anne should die, the crown would pass to the Hanovers of Germany. Thus the groundwork was laid for the rise of the British Empire.
Scotland—1403 to 1707
Macalpine Unifies Scots to Act of Union
Very little is known of Scottish history until the age of the Roman occupation of England. At that time, Scotland was inhabited by Celtic Britons who had fled from the Romans, and by Picts, who may or may not have been Celtic, but who were definitely fearsome and uncivilized. In spite of many campaigns, the Romans were never able to conquer the land north of Hadrian's Wall because the population was too spread out, there were no important towns to conquer, and the Scots engaged in guerilla-style warfare. The great pride of the Scottish nation is that it has lost many battles but never been conquered, and this is true. In spite of sharing a border with a much stronger nation for hundreds of years, Scotland largely retained its independence until its voluntary union with England in 1707.
The Irish had been converted to Christianity in the fifth century by, and because of the close relationship between Ireland and Scotland, Celtic missionaries such as and were important in the conversion of Scotland to Christianity. As in Ireland, the monasteries founded by the Celtic Christians became great centers of learning and culture, while the surrounding regions remained relatively primitive. Some famous monasteries founded by Celtic missionaries include Iona and Lindisfarne. The Scots as well as the English suffered during the ninth and tenth centuries, but as the Scots were less civilized and more disperse, there was little outside of the monasteries to plunder. The Vikings, however, took over several northern islands, including Orkney and Shetland, and held them for many years.
was one of the most important early Scottish kings, and his long reign spanned the period immediately before and after the Norman invasion of England. He was the son of Duncan, who was murdered by the of Shakespeare fame. He married , one of last heirs of the royal Wessex family, and she had a great civilizing effect on him. Their daughter, , married , so during this period Scotland was on reasonably good terms with England. After this marriage, many Norman nobles were granted lands in Scotland, including one of the ancestors of , the great Scottish patriot.
The Scottish population consisted of many very poor, but proud and fiercely independent war-loving citizens. The fiercest, and most war-loving were the Celtic Highlanders, who continued to speak Gallic even after many Lowlanders had adopted English ways. The overlords and barons of Scotland were powerful and difficult for the king to control. The barons tended to prefer weak kings so that they could do whatever they wanted. The descendents of Malcolm Canmore continued to rule Scotland untildied without an heir. During the ensuing period of confusion, quickly installed , one of several royal cousins on the throne, on condition that Baliol agree to acknowledge him as an overlord. Edward I was a powerful monarch and at first everything went his way—most of the Scottish nobles agreed to pay homage to him. Not until rallied the whole population against him did he begin to lose his hold on Scotland. Even Robert the Bruce fought on the side of Edward I in his youth, but once inspired with true patriotism, Bruce dedicated the rest of his life to freeing Scotland from the English yoke. The Battle of Bannockburn, which was fought against the weak son of Edward I, was the high point of the . It abolished English power in Scotland for generations and firmly established Bruce as the rightful monarch in Scotland.
Bruce's son David died without heirs, so the crown passed to, a grandson of Robert the Bruce and first of the Stuart kings. The Stuart kings continued to rule Scotland until (a.k.a. James VII of Scotland), was deposed. Even afterwards the Scots remained loyal to the Stuart line, and a Jacobite party, dedicated to restoring the Stuart monarchy, remained active until the 19th century.
The Stuart kings were of mixed ability; Scotland's relationship with England was always tense and throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there were continual border wars. In addition, many Scottish barons became so strong that the Stuarts had a great deal of difficulty controlling them. The Douglas clan in particular, descended from a favorite knight of Robert the Bruce, became so powerful that the Stuart kings resorted to murder and civil war to bring them down. The Stuart's reign was not particularly peaceful, but the Scots were a war-loving people and could not be kept at peace except by a very strong hand.
The Scots and French had a long-standing strategic agreement that called upon each of them to come to the others aid when at war with England. This relationship continued strong until Scotland, under the influence of, started to turn Protestant. This complicated the relationship with Catholic France and lead to numerous . The problems came to a head during the reign of , who inherited the throne from her father James V when she was only a few weeks old. The royal family remained Catholic, and Mary was raised in France and briefly married to the king of France. It was not until the death of her husband that she returned to rule Scotland herself, only to find the country torn by religious wars. Her reign was active but brief. She married her cousin, Henry Stuart Darnley and produced a son, (aka James VI of Scotland), but quickly became embroiled in a scandal involving the murder of her husband and an affair with a renegade noble. After a decisive defeat, she was deposed by the Protestant faction, who reigned in the name of her infant son. She was then driven from the country, imprisoned, and finally executed by her arch-nemesis, .
On the death of Queen Elizabeth, James VI of Scotland became heir to the throne of England, so from that time the Stuart kings resided in England rather than Scotland and the management of the country was left in the hands of Scottish Parliament. Although James VI was raised as Presbyterian, he and his descendants subscribed to the Anglican faith and did not tolerate non-conformists. This caused considerable conflict between the Stuart kings and their Scottish subjects, which flared up during the reign of, triggering the . Although many Scots fought against the king during the English Civil War, they fought only for the principles of religious freedom and self-government, and strongly resisted Cromwell's effort to eliminate crown altogether.
The Stuarts presided over the independent countries of England and Scotland for over 100 years before the Parliaments were combined into the United Kingdom of Great Britain by the Act of Union in 1707. Even then there was great popular resistance to the Union among native Scots, and it is thought the Union was brought about by strategic bribery. Anti-English feeling was still strong enough to fuel thein 1715 and 1745, but by the mid 18th century the industrial revolution, spurred on the by Scottish inventor and Scottish economist , was well underway. Rail transportation and commercial trade helped close the distance between the two countries, and pride in the growing empire unified patriot feeling between the two countries. The Scots reputation as fearless fighters and dauntless explorers was greatly enhanced by their important contributions to colonial development, and from the 18th century on, the history of Scotland is the history of the British Empire.
Ireland—450 to 1922
Life of Saint Patrick to Irish Independence
Ireland, like Scotland, was a Celtic country, with a language and culture different from their powerful neighbor England. Like Scotland, it had a long history of resisting English dominance and had been, for the greater part of history, antagonistic to England. But in spite of their similar Celtic heritage, the histories of Ireland and Scotland diverged dramatically, particularly at the time of the Reformation. During the late Tudor era, Scotland became Protestant, and Ireland remained Catholic. From that point on, Scotland and England, although remaining antagonistic on many points, were eventually able to merge their countries under a single protestant government, and live in relative peace. Ireland, on the other hand, became even more fiercely Catholic in response the oppressions of the English government, and the antagonism and hatred between the races, became ever worse over the years. When Scotland and England merged to become Great Britain, the Scotsmen enjoyed all due rights of citizenship. The greater population of Ireland, on the other hand, was entirely disenfranchised, dispossessed, and enjoyed no rights of self-government. It was ruled as a conquered colony, and badly ruled at that. As one politician stated in 1892: "the condition of Ireland is universally recognized as the chief scandal and chief weakness of the Empire." How it came to be so, is the sad story of Irish History.
St. Patrick and the Celtic Church
Ireland was converted to Catholicism by AD , an Irish Chieftain arose who managed to briefly unite the Irish tribes. He is credited with driving away the Vikings, although most of his wars were actually against other Irish clans. He governed well, but subsequent kings were less successful in holding the kingdom together.in the fifth century A.D. and after that time the Irish monasteries were centers of learning and scholarship. It was mainly Irish missionaries, such as St. Columba and St. Mungo who converted Scotland to Christianity a few decades later. Until the ninth century, the Celtic Church thrived, but then, like all of Western Europe, Ireland suffered from Viking attacks. The general disunity of the Irish tribes however, made it impossible for the Vikings to actually conquer Ireland and the relative scarcity of booty in the impoverished country, to some degree, discouraged the worst depredations. Finally, around 1000
The Normans in Ireland
One Hundred Years after the Normans conquered England, a Norman army was sent to conquer Ireland. The Normans succeeded in making many of the chieftains own them as overlords, but failed to actually impose a Norman government outside of a few towns on the eastern and northern coasts. Soon after the Battle of Bannockburn,, the Brother of , landed in Ireland with Scottish troops with the idea of driving the English out of Ireland. The attempt enjoyed early success, but eventually Bruce was killed, and the rebellion died with him. Over time however, English influenced decreased in Ireland, particularly during the , while for two generations, England was involved in a ruinous civil war.
Tudor Conquest of Ireland
Ireland, Cromwell and the Commonwealth
When the English Civil War broke out, the Irish took the opportunity to rebel, and in the Irish uprising of 1641, hundreds of Protestant settlers were slaughtered. Eventually the native Irish gentry and clergy put an end to the killing, and formed a defacto government, that ruled untilinvaded Ireland during the . At this time he took a terrible revenge for the Catholic outrages against Protestants which had occurred nearly a decade previously. At the Siege of Drogheda he ordered the indiscriminate slaughter of every man, woman, and child in the town, and all of Ireland was under his heel within a year. Cromwell remains one of the most hated characters of Irish History, and the atrocities committed on both sides during the civil war era did much to fan the religious hatreds of the following centuries.
Ireland suffered much under the commonwealth, but worse was yet to come. When the Catholicwas deposed from the English throne, Ireland immediately declared for him, and against . When the broke out, the Catholics laid siege to Protestant Londonderry, and the town was nearly starved when English reinforcements arrived. It was finally relieved when one of the English ships rammed through the boom that had prevented reinforcements and provisions from reaching the city. This unexpected setback sent the Irish army into confusion. The following year, the Irish resistance was firmly crushed at the Battle of Boyne, and the English victors took very hard measures to punish the rebels. Penal laws were now passed which not only disenfranchised, and dispossessed Catholics, but discriminated against them in all sorts of other ways, with the explicit intent to force them to convert to Protestantism or be driven to destitution. Instead of converting to Protestantism, however, the Irish only embraced their Catholicism, and suffered under horrible oppressions rather than convert to the religion of the hated English.
Eighteenth and Nineteenth century Ireland
By the mid-eighteenth century, there was a large native protestant Irish population, centered mainly in Ulster, and eastern coastal towns. Ireland, however, was governed as a colony, and inspired by the example set by the American Colonists, the local protestant population favored an independent parliament, and eventual Irish self-rule. The idea of extending the franchise to Catholics of course, occurred to no one, but the Protestant population, lead by, eventually won the right to hold a local parliament. Grattan, was himself sympathetic to granting a very limited franchise to the Catholic gentry, but such proposals only provoked a firestorm of controversy. Very soon after the establishment of the Irish Parliament, the occurred, an event which caused great consternation within England, particularly since the Irish Catholics were thought to be sympathetic to the Revolutionaries, and there was fear of an Irish alliance with France. Finally, in the did occur, and was accompanied by desperate atrocities on both sides. Grattan's parliament was dissolved, and the government of Ireland was taken under direct control of the English government. Ireland was absorbed into the "United Kingdom of Ireland and Great Britain", and although the Irish protestants were still able to elect representatives, they had to meet in London, and had virtually no clout within the English dominated Parliament.
Soon after the, a Catholic hero appeared on the scene. worked tirelessly for years to obtain the franchise for Irish Catholics, and eventually succeeded in doing so. He did this by actively foreswearing violence, and gaining support among protestants as well as Catholics. His heroic stance did much to advance the cause of Irish sympathy among the English, who feared the worst sort of violence were the Irish ever to gain political power. A few years later, spurred on by the Irish Potato famine, the English Parliament was compelled to abolish the corn-laws, which had done so much to create the crisis. Gradually, minor political relief was provided to Ireland, but their desire for Home Rule was violently opposed, not only by the English, but by many Irish Protestants. and were two statesmen who worked tirelessly for Irish reform, but could not manage to get a Home Rule bill through Parliament. There remained a violent and radical element to the Irish cause, which sabotaged the efforts of moderates to work out a compromise.
It was not until the midst ofthat another Irish uprising took place. This one began during the Easter season of 1916, but turned into a guerilla war for Irish Independence. The solution finally agreed to by parliament was to allow Irish counties to withdraw from the United Kingdom on an individual basis, meaning that the Protestant county of Ulster, would be allowed to retain its British identity. Although unpopular with the Irish Nationalists, the partition of Ireland finally occurred in 1922. Even today the republic Ireland includes only the provinces of Leinster, Munster, and Connacht, while Ulster is still governed as part of Great Britain.
European Middle Ages—600 to 1650
Rise of the Franks to Thirty Years War
Christian Conversion—The central organizing principle of Europe during its rise from the remnants of the Roman Empire to the modern nations of Europe was the Christian religion. The barbarian tribes of Hispania and Gaul had been Christianized to some extent during Roman times, but many of the Germanic and Slavic tribes in the north of Europe were not brought under the influence of Christianity until much later. With the "conversion" of a country to Christianity came many trappings of Christian civilization, including an educated class of clerics, Roman legal institutions, Christian teachings on morals, and most importantly for regional kings—the recognition of their legitimacy. That is, a local ruler who paid homage to the Church and other Christian overlords could be recognized as a legitimate ruler throughout all of Christendom and had less to fear from both internal rebellions and external invasions. Becoming part of the Christian family of nations did not eliminate these threats, but it enhanced the stability of the ruling classes of Europe and helped create the conditions necessarily for peace, commerce, and progress.
Charlemagne and the Franks—Many important milestones of the early years of the European Middle Ages relate to the conversion of barbarian tribes to Catholic Christianity, and the defense of already Christian territories from pagan hosts. The conversion of Clovis, king of the Franks, to Catholic Christianity was of utmost importance. During the 7th and 8th centuries, the Franks kept the Moors of Spain at bay, defended Catholic interests in Western Europe, and converted pagan tribes to the Christian cause. In 800 A. D., the greatest of the Frankish kings, Charlemagne, was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pope. Charlemagne not only helped fend off the Moslems in the Iberian Peninsula, but also conquered Northern Italy from the pagan Lombards, and forcibly converted great swaths of Saxony to Christianity. The territory he controlled consisted mainly of modern day France, Germany, and Italy, the central territories of Western Europe.
Once the Holy Roman Empire was established, it faced several long-term threats. First, the threat of Vikings, or barbarian invasion from the North; second, the growing threat of Moslem aggression in the Mediterranean regions; and third strife between the Church and various princes. Although specific conflicts related were regional, the overall threats were common to all of Christian Europe.
Vikings and Normans—Between the years 900 and 1200 A. D., a hardy race of pagan Norsemen over-ran much of Northern Europe. After decades of plunder and rampage, the Vikings were won over the Christian cause, less by armed resistance than by acculturation. They frequently conquered Christian lands but ended up marrying Christian women, ruling over Christian subjects, and raising Christian children. As second and third generation Viking rulers became Christianized, their adopted religion spread to their native lands, and eventually all of Scandinavia became Christian. The most important of the Viking rulers were the Normans, who ruled over Northern France and eventually conquered all of Britain and much of Italy. The Norsemen even formed several "crusader kingdoms" in the Middle East, and founded a dynasty in Russia.
During this same period, Christianity was spreading to the Slavic regions of eastern Europe. Poland, Russia, Hungary, Bohemia, and Lithuania were converted to Christianity by both Catholic and Orthodox missionaries. These regions had never been influenced by Roman civilization, and did not have written languages until they were converted to Christianity. Even though they were late to adopt the customs and culture of Western Europe, they were important Christian bulwarks against the advancing Mohammed and Mongol threats from the east.
The Islamic Threat—The Christian church had been fighting off schisms and heresies for hundreds of years when the Islamic threat took hold in the outermost regions of Christendom. Within fifty years of the death of Mohammed the new religion had swept all of the Middle East, Egypt and North Africa. Soon after the Moors conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula and threatened all of Europe. The Franks were key in turning the Mohammedan tide in Spain, and the Eastern Empire, centered in Constantinople, provided a buffer-state between the Moslem states of the Middle East and southeast Europe. Without these bulwarks, Europe almost certainly would have been over-run.
The Mohammedan Abbasid dynasty (750 to 1258 A.D.) was centered in Baghdad and ruled over a highly civilized region. The Abbasids tolerated Christian travelers, so for hundreds of years commerce and religious pilgrimages to the holy land continued unhindered. Eventually, however, the Abbasids lost ground to a more radical, less civilized tribe from central Asia. The "Turkish" Moslems conquered both Christian and Abbasid territories and eventually formed the Ottoman Empire. It was this branch of Islam which threatened Europe from the south and East for much of the Middle Ages.
The Crusades, which occurred during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, were a series of campaigns by Christian Europeans intended to reclaim the Holy Lands from Turkish Moslems. When these campaigns failed, the Turks were able to consolidate their territories in Asia Minor and invade southern Europe. Much of the Balkans fell to the Turks in the 12th and 13th centuries, and Constantinople fell in 1453. The Ottoman Turks continued to threaten Eastern Europe throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, and were not driven from the Balkan Peninsula until the 19th century. Many Christian heroes of the Middle Ages gained their renown from fighting to drive back the Mohammedans and maintain a Christian culture within Europe.
Church vs. State—The Christian religion sees the world as having both a spiritual realm and a material realm, and the mediaeval Church claimed the "spiritual" realm as its domain, while acknowledging the rights of princes over their earthly kingdoms. The border between material and spiritual reality, however, has ever been a messy one. From the princes' point of view, the church provided important services, but should be made to serve the interests of the state. From the Church's point of view, the princes ruled by the grace of God and were beholden to promote the interests of the Church. This conflict of interests has existed throughout the life of the church, but in the Middle Ages when the church held so much influence that an ex-communicated prince could not command the allegiance of his subjects, the controversy raged in many forms.
In Germany and Italy, the investiture controversy was essentially a conflict about who should control church property. Princes thought that since their armies were needed to protect church properties, they should be allowed to appoint bishops that would serve their interests. The church thought that it should be able to appoint bishops that were faithful to the papacy and Christian interests. Since church properties generated a great deal of income, this was more than a philosophical disagreement and many wars were fought over the issue. In France the same pressures applied, but the conflict was resolved for a long time by outright theft of the papacy. The Avignon Papacy was a hundred year period during which the King of France selected and maintained the Pope in his own domains, and even when the papacy was restored to Rome, it became largely a pawn of the Italian princes.
The result of princes appointing and controlling bishops was inevitable corruption. Church offices and their revenues became tools of the government, and a great deal of the money and land donated to the church for charitable purposes fell under the control of feckless nobles. The astounding factor in this situation was not the deplorable state of morals within the church hierarchy but the fact that in local parishes so much charitable work continued to get done, and so many pious and faithful servants of God were still attached to the religious life.
The Reformation—The widespread corruption within the church was in blatant conflict with the dogmas the church was bound to uphold. Sincere reformers from both inside and outside the church arose, but the extreme wealth of the church was a magnet but for opportunists of all stripes. The manner in which the reformation of the Catholic church occurred, therefore, varied by region, and had a great deal to do with local politics as well as theology.
In Germany, where Luther held sway, the church properties of kingdoms that broke away from Rome fell under the control of the princes, but much of the Church organization remained intact. In the Netherlands, the Calvinist variety of Christianity became a rallying point against the oppressions of Hapsburg Spain. Calvinism was especially popular with the merchant classes in independent cities throughout Europe, where local leaders opposed all hierarchy and rituals of the "papists" and sought to appoint church elders by popular election. In France, the Huguenot movement was almost crushed by the clever machinations of the mastermind, Richelieu, who sought to promote religious unity at home, while he sowed discord among his enemies by promoting Protestant causes in Germany.
The devastating Thirty Years War resulted in the Peace of Westphalia, which granted legitimacy and recognition to many of the Protestant governments of Europe. Its primary effect, however, was political: it resulted in a strengthened Bourbon France and a greatly weakened Hapsburg Empire. From this point on, the Hapsburg Empire was no longer the predominant power in Europe. Politics were driven by "balance of power" considerations, as Austria, France, Russia, Russia, and England maneuvered to protect their political interests in a continent where the ideal of religious unity could no longer serve as an effective break on nationalistic ambition.