This page contains a brief history of each of the eighteen civilizations' real-life counterparts.
- 1 Austria (976 on)
- 2 Bavaria (~600-1871)
- 3 Bohemia (~880-1526)
- 4 Brittany (~500-1532)
- 5 Burgundy (1363-1477)
- 6 Denmark (~980 on)
- 7 England (1066 on)
- 8 Flanders (~900-1384)
- 9 France (843 on)
- 10 Friesland (~500-1524)
- 11 Genoa (200 BC-1528)
- 12 Guelders (~1100-1543)
- 13 Helvetia, the "Oath-takers" (1218 on)
- 14 Hungary
- 15 Papal States (726–1870CE)
- 16 Poland (1025 on)
- 17 Savoy (~1000-1714)
- 18 Saxony (880-1871)
- 19 Scotland (832-1603)
- 20 Venice (~570-1796)
- 21 Wales (~500-1283)
Austria (976 on)
After the battle of the Lechfeld (955), in which the Emperor Otto the Great defeated the Magyars, the newly conquered lands were divided up into Marches, borderlands. One of these, known as the marchia orientalis, was to form the core of Austria, and was given to Leopold of Babenberg in 976. Forests were cut down, settlers arrived, and so did monks; villages and monasteries sprang up. In 1156 Austria was elevated to a duchy. The Babenberg family also acquired Styria in 1192, making them one of the most powerful dynasties in the region.
When the line went extinct, in 1246, the lands were disputed between Rudolf of Habsburg, an unknown Alsatian count who had already made it to king of the Romans, and Premysl Otakar II of Bohemia. The war culminated in the battle of the Marchfeld (1278), in which Otakar perished, and Rudolf of Habsburg claimed Austria as well as the imperial title. Carinthia and Carniola came under Habsburg rule in 1335, Tyrol in 1363. These provinces, together, became known as the Habsburg Hereditary Lands, although they were sometimes simply referred to as Austria.
The history of the following two centuries had many ups and downs, and included unfortunate attempts to conquer the Swiss lands, the most famous ending in the Battle of Morgarten (1315), where an Austrian army under Leopold I suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the Oath-takers. A number of Austrian territories rebelled or were conquered by the Swiss over time, including Habsburg Castle, which is located in modern day Switzerland. Leopold III was killed in battle near Sempach (1386), a city the Swiss had taken from the Habsburgs. Only from 1412 on did the Austrians try to avoid the Oath-takers.
Following the notable, but short rule of Rudolf IV, his brothers Albrecht III and Leopold III split the realms in the Treaty of Neuberg in 1379. Albrecht retained Austria proper, while Leopold took the remaining territories. In 1402, there was another split in the Leopoldinian line, when Ernest the Iron took Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola) and Frederick IV became ruler of Tyrol and Further Austria. The territories were only reunified by Ernest's son Frederick V (Frederick III as Holy Roman emperor), when the Albrechtinian line (1457) and the Elder Tyrolean line (1490) had become extinct.
In 1438, Duke Albrecht V of Austria was chosen as the successor to his father-in-law, Emperor Sigismund. Although Albrecht himself only reigned for a year, from then on, every emperor was a Habsburg, with only one exception. The Habsburgs also began to accumulate lands far from the Hereditary Lands. In 1477, the Archduke Maximilian, only son of Emperor Frederick III, married the heiress of Burgundy, thus acquiring most of the Low Countries for the family. His son Philip the Fair married the heiress of Castile and Aragon, acquiring Spain and its Italian, African, and New World appendages for the Habsburgs. In 1520 the Habsburg Emperor Karl V divided his extensive territories between his brother, Ferdinand, who became emperor and retained the Hereditary Lands, and his son, Philip, who became king of Spain.
The duchy of Bavaria had existed long before Charlemagne conquered it, remaining a solid state in a period that saw great border changes elsewhere. After changing hands repeatedly during the early 12th century, the duchy was combined with that of Saxony during the reign of Heinrich the Lion. He neglected Bavaria in favour of his northern lands, although he was not without merit: he founded Munich. During these decades, the duchy lost border areas to surrounding states, such as Austria and Styria.
A new era began when, in consequence of Henry the Lion being placed under an imperial ban in 1180, Emperor Frederick I awarded the duchy to Otto, a member of the old Bavarian family of Wittelsbach, and a descendant of the counts of Scheyern. The Wittelsbach dynasty ruled Bavaria without interruption until 1918. While the options for expansion were limited, due to Bavaria's powerful neighbours, the new dukes still managed to make their territory grow, largely through personal purchases of land. They began to play a part more supportive to the emperors, and consequently grew in stature and political importance. When Otto II the Illustrious died in 1253, Bavaria was once again a very important power within the empire.
The efforts of the dukes to increase their power and to give unity to the duchy had met with a fair measure of success; but this was not to last, as the practice of dividing ancestral lands among the male line of the family were soon to seriously undermine ducal authority, and led to the creation of separate Upper and Lower Bavarian states. But the family's ambition had not come to an end, and when the Bavarian emperor, Ludwig IV, died in 1347, he left his six sons not only Bavaria but also the duchies of Brandenburg and Tyrol and the counties of Holland and Hainaut. The many different Bavarian territories were now all ruled separately, and there were frequent succession wars. While only three lines still existed by 1392, they fought bitterly for half a century.
This condition of affairs, however, had some benefits. The government of the country and the control of the finances passed mainly into the hands of an assembly called the Landtag or Landschaft, organised in 1392. The towns, assuming a certain independence, became strong and wealthy as trade increased, and the citizens of Munich and Regensburg often proved formidable antagonists to the dukes. Thus a period of disorder saw the growth of representative institutions and the establishment of a strong civic spirit.
Ludwig IX, who came to power in 1450, re-established some of the former grandeur to the duchy, combining Bavaria-Landshut and Bavaria-Ingolstadt. He expelled the Jews from his duchy, increased the security of traders, and improved both the administration of justice and the condition of the finances. In 1472 he founded the university of Ingolstadt, attempted to reform the monasteries, and successfully defeated Albrecht Achilles of Brandenburg. On the death of Ludwig IX in January 1479 his son Georg, also called the Rich, succeeded; however, he died without heirs in December 1503, and yet another war broke out for the possession of his duchy. This time, luckily, there was a real victory, and Albrecht IV, nicknamed the Wise, united all of Bavaria by 1506.
The fertile Bohemian lands had been settled for centuries when, by 995, the Premyslid chiefs united the Czech tribes into the principality of Bohemia. Part of the Holy Roman empire since Emperor Otto the Great paid them a visit in 950, the prince of Bohemia was one of the seven electors and thus held considerable power, which he used effectively to increase his dominions, particularly Moravia in the 11th century. Nevertheless, the princes regularly had difficulty with local nobility, and, relying on German support to quell the unrests, they undermined their own position. The emperors expanded their influence by making the see of Prague subordinated to the archbishop of Mainz.
The 13th century saw the emperors tied up in Italy, and the Polish and Hungarians caught up fighting the Golden Horde. Premysl Otakar I used this time of unrest to secure his own position as a king. The Emperor confirmed the position in 1212, and allowed the Bohemian kings to appoint their own bishops in Prague. Premysl Otakar II had an even more forceful imperial policy: he became duke of Austria, and conquered Styria, most of Carinthia, and parts of Carniola. The king of the Romans, Richard of Cornwall, had accepted this, but when Rudolf of Habsburg acquired that royal dignity, he confiscated Premysl Otakar's German lands. A war was fought, in which both sides claimed the imperial crown, but in the battle of the Marchfeld (1278), the Bohemian died and the Habsburg family, formerly unknown counts of Alsace, paved the way to eternal fame.
When the Premyslid family ended in the male line, a war was fought in which Jan, duke of Luxembourg, was the victor. His reign gave rise to what is considered the Golden Age of Bohemia, perfected in the reign of Karel IV (1342-1378), who also became emperor (1355). Among the many things Karel IV did to benefit Bohemia, the principal ones are the founding of the Charles University, the construction of the Charles Bridge, the foundation of the New Town suburb of Prague, the rebuilding of Hradcany castle, implementing administrative improvements for Bohemia and Moravia, raising the episcopal see of Prague to an archbishopric, and cancelling Bohemia's position as a fief of the Holy Roman empire. This gave rise to a fertile artistic and scientific circuit, and Prague became one of the foremost centres of learning in Europe.
In the 15th century the Hussite movement took root in Bohemia. Jan Hus, rector of the Prague University, espoused the antipapal and antihierarchical teachings of John Wyclif of England, but added Bohemian nationalism into the mix. He was executed for spreading heretical ideas, but had gained so many supporters that Bohemia erupted into a revolt. Multiple crusades went to Bohemia, but all were defeated, while the Hussites performed what they called "Beautiful Rides", that were in reality merciless raids through Poland, Hungary and the empire. The different wings of the Hussite movement fought out a civil war, ending in victory for the moderate movement, but which in reality weakened the country, and in 1437 the war was over.
George of Podebrady, initially regent in Bohemia, reasserted the position of the Reformed Church of Bohemia, and drove the Catholics out of Prague. In 1458 the Bohemian estates elected him king of Bohemia, an election both the pope and the Catholic nobles in the land refused to recognise. Czech Catholic nobles, joined in the League of Zelena Hora, continued to challenge the authority of George of Podebrady until his death in 1471, when the Bohemian estates elected a Polish prince, Wladyslaw II Jagiello, as king. Vladislav also became king of Hungary, and the Polish Jagellonian line ruled both Bohemia and Hungary. The Jagellonians governed Bohemia as absentee monarchs; their influence in the kingdom was minimal, and effective government fell to the regional nobility. In 1526, when Hungary was partly conquered by the Turks, and the rest fell to the Austrians, the Bohemian estates elected Archduke Ferdinand of Austria to become their new king, initiating almost four centuries of Habsburg rule for Bohemia.
Brittany, known in French as Bretagne, is a Celtic country with ancient roots. When the Franks began their migration into Gaul in the 4th century, the Celts were slowly losing out against this Germanic tribe. Driven back into Normandy and Brittany, they were awaiting their deathblow when luck gave them a helping hand. On the isles of Great Britain a similar event was happening: the Angles, Saxons, Frisians and Jutes were conquering the lands of the Celts. As a result, large amounts of refugees fled to Wales and Brittany, revitalising these areas and ensuring their survival for generations to come. Brittany became a safe haven for Celts of many regions. From 851 on Bretons could rest easier in their beds: at the battle of Jengland the Breton army of King Erispoë defeated the French army of King Charles the Bald, who consequently recognised their independence.
When Henry II created the Angevin state, Brittany was part of his dominions. The Bretons, however, were unhappy to be so, much like the Welsh, and joined the rebellion of 1173-74. Henry's own son, Geoffrey, second Breton duke of that name, fought against his father to prevent his duchy from becoming an English fief. Before he died, he proclaimed what is known as "Geoffrey's Assise", which forbade the subdivision of fiefs, which was common practice in Celtic lands (and continued in Wales until long after they were conquered). Geoffrey's son, Arthur, continued his father's anti-English policy. By now it was clear that Brittany could no longer be counted among England's vassals, and it fell more closely under French influence.
King Philippe II Augustus also tried his hand at Breton politics, and appointed Pierre Mauclerc as the tutor of his son, the under age Jehan, Duke of Brittany. However, Mauclerc became a staunch supporter of Breton independence - the ermine on the Breton coat of arms was introduced by him. During this period it is sometimes difficult to see just how independent Brittany was. Very often she had no choice but to obey the demands of any French King. However, unlike the Welsh, the Bretons were prepared to do this to maintain their own lords, laws, and customs.
At the start of the Hundred Years War, Brittany was involved in a bloody civil war (1341-1364). On the one side was Jean de Montfort, half brother of the last duke, Jean III, supported by the English; on the other, Charles de Blois, who had married the niece of Jean III. He was supported by the French. The war included many epic battles and events, and the tides turned regularly, for example when Jean de Montfort died in 1345 or when Charles de Blois was captured in 1347. However, after the battle of Auray (1364), the Montforts were clearly the victors, and Jeanne de Penthièvre and Charles de Blois abdicated their claim in favour of Duke Jean IV. This conflict caused the introduction of several new laws, including a modified version of the Salic law (meaning that no rights can be inherited through a woman) and, in 1352, the establishment of the États de Bretagne (Estates of Brittany), the Duchy's parliament.
Brittany's future, however, was still not safe. In 1378 King Charles V of France sought to conquer the Duchy. Duke Jean IV resisted, and in the second treaty of Guérande (1381) Breton neutrality in the Anglo-French conflict was guarantueed; however, the Duke continued to swear hommage to the King. During the Welsh revolt of Owain Glyndwr Breton warships helped the Welsh, though their help was more akin to piracy than anything else.
Eventually, in 1488, the curtains seemed to fall. King Charles VIII sought to stabilise and centralise his realm. Because the Bretons had always been unruly and in the last century frequently sided with the independent Burgundians, Charles felt he needed to end the possible threat. His army, backed up with 5 000 mercenaries, defeated the Bretons under François II and forced him to sign a treaty allowing the King of France to pick a husband for the Duke's daughter. The choice wasn't particularly hard for the French, and she was married to King Louis XII of France. In 1532, under King François I, Brittany was officially incorporated into the Kingdom of France.
When the Franks settled on the borders of modern France, the Burgundians too found a place of living. Their independence was soon curbed and they became integrated into the French and German realms, split up. It would take until 1363 before Burgundy would rise again. In that year, French King Jean II appointed his son Philippe Duke of Burgundy, for defending him with exceptional heroism at the battle of Poitiers. Philippe the Bold, as he became known, married Margareta, heiress to the county of Flanders; the territory was soon added to the Burgundian domains, along with the German part of Burgundy. Philippe the Bold was a clever politician, and during the reign of the mad king Charles VI he became virtual ruler of the realm, furthering his own dynastic ambitions, laying the foundations for the success of his heirs.
When Philippe died (1404), his son, Jean the Fearless, took over the reins, establishing a more forceful foreign policy. His father had always worked through means of diplomacy, but Jean excelled not only in cloak-and-dagger intrigues but also in military command. After the assassination of the brother of the king, the duke of Orléans, on Jean's orders, a civil war broke out. The Burgundian faction managed to exploit this very well, and after many of their opponents had died on the field of Azincourt (1415), the northern French cities for a large part turned coat. Threatened by the Burgundian expansion, the dauphin, the future Charles VII, had Jean assassinated during peace negotiations on the bridge of Montereau (1419).
Jean's son would bring Burgundy to its greatest glory: he was known as Philippe the Good. More than doubling Burgundian territory, Philippe added the territories of Brabant, Holland, Zeeland, Hainault, Limburg and Luxembourg, while putting the bishoprics of Cambrai, Liege and Utrecht safely in his sphere of influence. This grand expansion was achieved mostly through diplomacy, but in military matters, also, Philip proved quite capable. A war of attrition was fought over Holland, eventually won through determination. Apart from that, Philippe continued the war with France for two more decades, and suppressed uprisings in Flanders and Liege.
Philippe's greatest claim to fame, however, was the Burgundian court. Under his reign, his court became one of the most prosperous in Europe, and his knightly order, the Order of the Golden Fleece, was the perfect example of chivalrous conduct; Burgundian dinners were the best one could have, and Philippe's court was also leading in clothing fashion. Flanders, especially, became known for its beautiful illuminated manuscripts, Dutch trade prospered as never before, and the architecture of Brabant was admired throughout his territory: certainly, the Burgundian realm, a kingdom in all but name, brought great advantages to those who lived in it.
Philippe was a merry man, responsible for a great many bastards, but only leaving one legitimate heir: Charles the Bold. Charles was a warlike fellow. Ever since the War of the Public Weal, he had taken a serious interest in military matters. When he became duke of Burgundy (1467), he went against the tradition of peaceful acquisition.
No Burgundian duke had to fight as many wars as Charles the Bold. He fought the French, conquered Guelders, burnt down rebellious Liege, faced revolt in his newly claimed territories of Alsace and Lorraine, and was attacked by the Swiss. Although Charles was the best general of all the dukes of Burgundy, even he could not face this onslaught.
In 1477, Charles the Bold, aged 44, was killed in the battle of Nancy. Leaving only a female heiress, his 18-year-old daughter Mary, the Burgundian state seemed to fall apart. However, Mary married Maximilian of Habsburg, the son of the emperor. Losing Burgundy and the Somme towns to France, Maximilian surprisingly managed to hold on to tDenmark(~980 on)he other territories.
The Habsburgs were on the rise, and Maximilian's grandson was Charles V, Holy Roman emperor as well as king of Spain. Although the Burgundian inheritance had been saved, the last remnant of the once mighty Burgundian realm was the Order of the Golden Fleece, which continues to exist to this very day in both Austria and Spain.
Denmark (~980 on)
It was the famous Harold Bluetooth who, around 980, unified the many petty kingdoms in what is now Denmark, and created a single state. Embracing Christianity, he forged bonds with western and central Europe, particularly the Holy Roman empire and the papacy. The first was necessary as it was a neighbouring state; the second was to further strengthen his position at home, with the help of the clergy. When England broke away from Danish control after the death of Canute the Great (1035), Denmark suffered internal disorder and was frequently raided by vikings from Norway. However, Canute’s nephew Sweyn Estridson (1020-1074) re-established strong royal authority.
The mid 12th century was a difficult time for the kingdom of Denmark. Civil wars rocked the land and created much strife. Eventually, Valdemar the Great (1131-82), gained control of the kingdom, stabilising it and reorganizing the administration. During Valdemar’s reign, a castle was built in the village of Havn, leading eventually to the foundation of Copenhagen, the modern capital of Denmark. Denmark was transformed in this time into a major power in the Baltic Sea, competing with the Hanseatic League, the Counts of Holstein, and the Teutonic Knights for trade, territory, and influence throughout the area. Valdemar and his successors launched various ‘crusades’ to claim territories, notably modern Estonia.
By the late 13th century, royal power had waned, and the nobility forced the king to grant a charter, considered Denmark's first constitution. A weakened Denmark was of great benefit to both the Hanseatic League and the Counts of Holstein. These counts gained control of large portions of Denmark because the king would grant them fiefs in exchange for money to finance royal operations. Consequently, by the 1320s the king was largely bound by the wishes of these counts, who by then owned most of Denmark.
The kingdom continued to fall apart; the territory of Scania passed for a while to the King of Sweden. In 1340 the throne fell to Valdemar Atterdag, or "New Day." He was a skilled politician and was able to reunite the old kingdom of Denmark by turning the counts against each other. His continued efforts to expand the kingdom after 1360 brought him into open conflict with the Hanseatic League. He conquered Gotlandia, much to the displeasure of the League, since Visby, an important trading town, was located there. Their alliance with Sweden to attack Denmark was initially a fiasco since Danish forces captured a large Hanseatic fleet, and ransomed them back for an enormous sum. Luckily for the League the Jutland Nobles revolted against the heavy taxes levied to fight the expansionist war in the Baltic; the two forces worked against the king, forcing him into exile in 1370. For several years, the Hanseatic League controlled the fortresses on "the sound" between Scania and Zealand.
Margaret I was the daughter of Valdemar Atterdag. She was married to Håkon VI of Norway in an attempt to join the two kingdoms, along with Sweden, since Håkon was related to the Swedish royal family. Originally her son, Olaf III was intended to rule the three kingdoms, but due to his early death she took on the role. During her life, the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (including the Faroe Islands, as well as Iceland, Greenland, and present-day Finland) were unified under her capable rule, in what was called the Kalmar Union, made official in 1397.
Her successor, Eric of Pomerania, lacked his predecessor's skill and was directly responsible for the breakup of the Kalmar Union. However, there was still some enthusiasm for the idea, so when Christopher of Bavaria, a distant relative came to the throne, he managed to be elected in all three kingdoms, briefly reuniting Scandinavia. The Swedish nobility grew increasingly unhappy with Danish rule and the union soon became merely a legal concept with little practical application.
England (1066 on)
Before 1066, England consisted of multiple smaller kingdoms, sometimes under a single ruler, more often disunited. The famous battle of Hastings changed all that, when the Norman conquest of England brought solidity and unity to the country. Even though the Normans were foreigners, speaking French rather than the Anglo-Saxon dialects used by the commoners, they managed to give England a purpose and identity it had previously lacked.
The Norman kings of England had two main priorities: conquest or overlordship of the British Isles, and claiming the crown of France. At several moments, they seemed closer to achieving the latter goal and failing at the former, but history turned out the opposite.
In the 12th century, the Norman kings were Frenchmen in disguise. Rulers such as Henry II and Richard Lionheart did not even speak English; they preferred the language of their ancestors, the western European court language: French. Henry II was the first to seriously undertake the conquest of Wales, but he was defeated by the Welsh lords. He eventually came to terms with them, if only to restore peace on his western border as he was fighting his rebellious sons in France.
But both Henry II and his heir, Richard I, were pre-occupied with French affairs. Richard hardly visited his English lands, if at all, and set up a system of shire-reeves travelling the shires in his absence, dealing primarily with justice. These we still know as sheriffs. This decentralised the realm, but laid the foundations for the modern justice system.
After king John lost most of his French territories to Philip II Augustus, King of France, the Norman lords were forced to concentrate more on their English lands. A series of small civil wars occurred in the 13th century, the most important of which was the Baronial War, in which the barons captured king Henry III in battle and forced him to accept their ideas of a parliament, where the king's vassals could speak their mind on the king's policy. This was nowhere near the democratic organ we know it as today, but it gave English lords a voice that would otherwise have gone unheard, and helped anglify the court.
The Hundred Years War started in the 14th century. The English armies, with a nice amount of Welshmen, Irishmen, Gascons and a variety of other troops thrown in (such as Bretons and Hainaulters) made excellent progress militarily, but their bloody war got them few friends with the French populace, and even though they defeated multiple French armies their territorial acquisitions were usually lost within a decade or two (the only exception being Calais, which held on for two centuries). The war helped make England a more united country, and provided otherwise unruly provinces, such as Wales, with suitable employment.
But the unity didn't last forever, and from the death of King Richard II (1399) to the death of King Richard III (1485), the country was frequented by civil war. In Wales, Owain Glyndwr rebelled against King Henry IV, and soon the prominent English noblemen Roger Mortimer and Henry Percy were up in arms, too. The young prince Henry, later Henry V, was taught the art of war in the Welsh campaigns, eventually defeating Percy at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403). When he became king in 1413, he proved popular, as his campaigns in France testify. The immortal victor of Agincourt (1415), the most famous battle of the Hundred Years War, his reign was a triumph already. His early death, however, brought back unrest, as his mad son was incapable of governing; the War of the Roses had started.
Flanders was the most important French province since the 1100's. Situated on the border of the Holy Roman Empire and speaking Flemish rather than French, they were always different and more independent minded. They were part of France and could not connect to the other peoples speaking related languages, but they never considered themselves French. Apart from that, their advanced culture made them stand out even more.
The Flemish had been very much involved with the British Isles ever since the 11th Century; a large group of Flemings accompanied William the Conqueror to England in his invasion of 1066, and a lot of them settled in Wales and Scotland as well as England and Ireland. They brought their advanced knowledge of wool manufacture with them, knowledge that was put to good use, as it later became one of the British Isles' most prosperous trades. The Flemish connection with England was thus strong, and it was not uncommon for an English king to seek out an alliance with these people to help him in wars against France.
One of the earliest of these instances was in 1214, when the Flemish were one of the allies of King John of England. The count of Flanders was one of the 140 nobles captured, after the battle of Bouvines (1214), and he was led in a triumphal procession through Paris, a humiliation no count or duke from the Low Countries suffered since.
Flanders' economy was at its peak in the 13th century, when it was the richest of all French provinces. In 1302, the wealthy Flemish began a war for independence, culminating in the famous battle of Kortrijk (1302) also known as the Battle of the Gulden Spurs. The rebellion proved in vain in the long run, though, but it was still a vital part of the formation of Flanders, for it gave it its pride and strengthened nationalism, and the battle is still celebrated today.
Another sharp clash with French authority came in the Hundred Years War, when an alliance was made with King Edward III of England. Large Flemish forces served in English armies, and they played a vital part in the siege of Calais (1347). Surprisingly, the count of Flanders was very much pro-French and died fighting the English at the battle of Crécy (1346). Had he survived, he would have been fighting his own Flemings, too!
The semi-independence of the Flemish cities and guilds was eventually lost when the county fell to Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, in 1384, through a fortunate marriage. Flanders was a wealthier province than Burgundy, and it became the heart of the Burgundian state. Despite their importance, the Flemish again rebelled several times, but the Burgundians defeated each attempt. So it happened that Flanders eventually passed in to Habsburg hands at the end of the Middle Ages, and would change ownership from Spain to Austria to the Netherlands, until they finally gained their long-sought independence in 1830.
France (843 on)
In 843 the Empire of Charlemagne was split up between his grandchildren. Lotharius got the central part, from the Low Countries to Italy, the heart of this realm being in Lorraine; Louis the German received the eastern part and, because it was the least wealthy, also got the imperial crown for compensation; France, the richest part, went to Charles the Bald. However, the wealth attracted the attention of many seeking riches, including the Vikings. They hit France hard, and Normandy was granted as a duchy to the Northmen, or Normans. A variety of weak French kings followed, and in 987, upon the death of Louis the Lazy, the Capetians would replace the Carolingians as the ruling dynasty. Hugo Capet, originally the lord of Paris, proved capable, and his successors worked for centuries to improve the French royal position.
When Henry II of England married into Aquitaine (1152), the balance of power in France was seriously disturbed. Henry owned more lands than the king of France himself, and could field large armies to maintain these. However, not all of Henry's offspring shared his martial abilities, and king Philippe II Augustus, an aggressive, intelligent ruler, took back most of England's possessions from king John.
France's growth reflected the international status of its rulers; yet France was anything but a homogenous realm. Many different languages were spoken in it: French, Flemish, Gascon, Basque, Catalan and Occitan, to name but a few. All these languages had their own cultures, sometimes in rebellion against French rule: the Flemish and Gascons traditionally sided with the English, whereas the Occitans were often practicing heretical religions (the most notable being the Cathar faith) rather than being good Christians. Their cultural identity went against the plans of the king, but sometimes sacrifices had to be made to maintain the state, and so an Estates General was created where the clerics, noblemen and burghers could advise their lord. However, its power was only noticeable during wartime, when they would sometimes veto further taxes.
With so many different cultures in a single realm, the unifying factor within the kingdom of France was the Christian faith, and the French gave serious support during every Crusade – so much so, that the Muslims habitually referred to the Crusaders as ‘Franks’. The popularity of the Crusades was, however, more of a thing for the population than for the royal family – only three French kings actually went on Crusade, the first, Louis VII, achieved little; the second, Philippe II Augustus, left very quickly, after taking Acre, which he considered enough to satisfy the clergy. The final crusading king, Louis IX, was the only French king to muster any real enthusiasm: he was a devoted man, but his military skills proved inadequate to turn either of his Crusades into a success: he died of old age before achieving anything, but was sanctified afterwards.
Following the Investiture conflict between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy, in which the emperors fought for the right to appoint their own bishops, the Papacy severed its ties with the emperors as their long-standing protectors. In search of a new powerful ally, they chose the growing French empire and settled in Avignon in 1309. A strong bond grew between the kings of France and the popes of Avignon, as they shared similar interests, and France proved more than receptive to the Papacy's ideas of persecuting religious malcontents. Already in the 13th century they had religiously weeded out all traces of the Cathar heresies. When that mystic branch of Christianity sprung up again, in the first two decades of the 14th century, there was no hesitation to teach them the Church's message. Contrary to popular belief, executions were limited and punishment was primarily dealt with prison terms, forced conversion and 'Cathar crosses' stitched to the offender's clothes, to mark him or her as a former heretic.
French court culture was defining for the period, with many other courts mimicking or copying French royal customs. Literature flourished and so did art, often in combination: the manuscript collection of the National Library of France serves as a testament to that. Architecture was refined, with symbolism and the most complicated techniques intertwining to create outstanding structures, standing to this very day. But where French culture became defining, for a period the French royal line collapsed into mediocrity and suffered a string of serious setbacks against the English.
The Hundred Years War was a conflict named thus in the 19th century; for those who lived through part of it, it was mostly a continuation of earlier conflicts; it can easily be argued that the war lasted from roughly 1150 to 1450. Despite occasional setbacks, it was a clear victory for the French. English conquests or battlefield victories were usually lost within a few decades, with the French resurging each time to reclaim their territory. Largely, it was a struggle between the French ruling classes of both countries: but as the Normans who had conquered England in 1066 became increasingly English, they lost their touch with France, and could eventually count on little sympathy from the French populace.
The end of the war was marked by an increasing growth of French royal power, the roots of the absolute state it would be under Louis XIV becoming clearly apparent. Both Charles VII and Louis XI faced multiple revolts of the higher nobility, but these were crushed or talked into a cease-fire, noble powers being curbed after each attempt. Only the Burgundians could maintain their independence for some time. However, the Middle Ages ended on a high note for France, when duke Charles of Burgundy was killed in Lorraine. French armies were quick to seize the initiative and reconquer their lost Burgundy province, meanwhile extending their influence over Lorraine and Savoy.
The exact origin of the Frisians is unknown, but it is thought they came from Scandinavia and settled in a large area of coastal lands stretching from just west of Denmark to the modern day Dutch province of Zeeland, shortly before the fall of the western Roman Empire. Throughout the Dark Ages, the Frisians were busy traders, travelling from settlement to settlement, mostly trading their surplus food for more valuable objects. Roman glass has been found in old Frisian settlements, and it seems clear that the Frisians were a vital component in the trade between the Scandinavian and southern, Frankish, lands.
When the Vikings started raiding the coasts of Europe, the Frisians, never far away from the shores, were hit hard, and the Norse quickly set up their own settlements, especially in the southern half of the Netherlands. But the Frisians themselves had come from Scandinavia too, and they were no less fierce. They copied the tactic of raiding and plundering, and in the 11th century the King of Denmark complained to the Frisians for raiding his lands!
By the 12th century, the Frisians had already lost in influence. No longer did they form a Kingdom, and the southern part of their territory, the county of Holland, had been trying to get rid of the shackles that tied it to the Frisians. Friesland suffered another blow when a massive flood split their lands in two and created a treacherous inland sea in 1170. The county of Holland was then separated from Friesland Proper, and only a small part was still considered Frisian - this was West Friesland, which the Hollanders conquered by 1289.
From about 1100 on, there was no central authority in Friesland and all Frisians were free. Only a small higher class existed, but, as in the Swiss territories, this never managed to achieve political power. The peasants operated in communes, and all men carried arms and were expected to defend their lands in case of invasions. Contrary to popular belief, the arms of these peasants were actually of good quality; yet because they were few in number, they often preferred guerrilla style tactics, harrassing supply lines and ambushing lonely contingents. This proved highly effective against the Hollanders in many wars, the most important of which would be the invasions of 1256, 1345 and 1396-1411.
In times of war, a commander for the entire army was elected by representatives from the communes. The new leader would command for only one year and was drafted from the upper classes. Despite this haphazard organisation, the system appears to have worked very well. These elected generals won multiple battles against invaders and were responsible for the deaths of two kings (of Denmark and Germany) and numerous lesser lords, including Viking chieftains and counts of Holland. Even though ambushes were preferred, the Frisians excelled in the open field when it turned out to be necessary.
We are better informed on events during the 14th and 15th centuries, and the conflicting reports on the situation long misled historians. While local wars ('feuds') were well documented by pessimistic chroniclers, it was long thought these conflicts had appeared out of nowhere and seriously undermined the economy. However, recent research indicates that Frisian economy made giant leaps forward in the 15th century, when its cities started to attain respectable sizes. It is now thought that the feuds had always been there, even if barely mentioned before, and were little more than self-regulating justice systems that were actually effective in limiting violence. For example, the so-called Donia-war, a large-scale feud that ravaged central Friesland in the 1450's, claimed only about 250 lives. Commanders were careful to commit their men or attack, because they were held accountable for casualties and had to pay indemnities if necessary. This explains why people not involved in the conflict could keep out: warriors had nothing to gain and a lot to lose by assaulting innocents.
After conquering Holland, the Dukes of Burgundy claimed Friesland, too, but they were too busy elsewhere to actually invade it and establish effective ownership. Friesland remained in relative peace until the beginning of the 16th century, receiving little outside attention. A few prosperous families tried to transform the decentralised lands into a unified state, but this was effected only in East Friesland, by the Cirksena family. From about 1500 on, German mercenaries ravaged Central Friesland, and Greate Pier led a peasant militia on land and on sea to drive them out. Aided by Karel van Egmond, Duke of Guelders, the Frisians were successful and even raided deep into Holland, plundering fortified cities such as Alkmaar. But the war effort could not be sustained by either the Duke of Guelders or the Frisians, and in 1524 the house of Habsburg conquered Friesland.
Genoa (200 BC-1528)
Genoa is a very old city, and traces its origins to the ancient world. As a Roman city, however, it had never been particularly powerful, and it would only be after 1100 that she would rise as a major power in the Mediterranean. As Genoa lay within the borders of the Holy Roman Empire, the city was subject to the Emperor, but the city also had a Bishop, who was more actively involved in its politics. Real power in Genoa, however, lay with the Consuls, who were elected annually by popular assembly.
Like Venice, Pisa, and Amalfi, Genoa was one of the Maritime Republics. These vied for power over trade in the Mediterranean, a struggle that sometimes turned into all-out open war. Genoa did well, and its pillars of strength were trade, shipbuilding, banking and highly trained mercenaries. This in turn fuelled further economic expansion, and the Republic of Genoa soon extended over modern Liguria, Piedmont, Sardinia, and Corsica and had all but monopolised the Tyrrhenian Sea. During the Crusades, Genoa expanded to the east, founding colonies in the Middle East, Northern Africa and on Chios and Lesbos, in the Aegean. This brought more than just earthly riches, as a green glass goblet was brought back from the Levant, supposedly the Holy Grail.
Within the city faction-fights were ever present, with the three major families of Doria, Grimaldi and Spinola fighting for control. This brought disruption and sometimes even battle within the city walls, but things settled down a bit when the Grimaldis left Genoa in the 14th century and conquered the city of Monaco. From here they built their own small realm, culturally very similar to their old city, as they brought in many of their supporters. During the Hundred Years War the Grimaldis were active participants in the Hundred Years War, appearing on the field many a time to support the French - for hard cash, of course.
The Crusades were eventually unsuccessful, and the Genoese lost control of Lesbos and Chios. But they allied themselves with the Byzantine Empire, which opened up a whole new market. Genoese colonies quickly sprung up in Caffa and Tana, on the Crimean. By 1294 Genoa's power was paramount, having beaten Pisa and particularly its chief rival Venice in open war. But things could only get worse, and in 1349 Genoese fleeing from the besieged port of Caffa brought the Plague to Europe. This spread quickly and brought economic misery as well as reducing the population. There was less demand for mercenaries, whereas banking was periodically on the decline as well, several bankers having gone bankrupt.
War did continue with Venice (1378-1381), but this time it brought Genoa defeat. The city became a French satellite for a short period (1394-1409), and was then subjected to the Visconti of Milan. The Kingdom of Aragon then took Sardinia, Corsica was lost after a rebellion, and whatever it had left in the east the Ottomans conquered. In 1528, Genoa was made a satellite of Spain.
There was no duchy of Guelders until, in the 12th century, a Flemish nobleman settled there and became the lord of Wassenberg. The family went on to claim large tracts of land through marriage and conquest. The combined lands were known as the county of Guelders from about 1096 onwards. The territory consisted of four parts: the quarters of Zutphen, Arnhem, Nijmegen and Roermond, also referred to as the upper-quarter.
The lands of Guelders were fertile, and large parts of it were used for farming. Because of this, a comparatively large part of the lower class was free rather than a serf/tenant. Trade prospered because of the many great rivers (including the Rhine and Ruhr) passing through Guelders, and several cities were part of the German Hansa, a trading organisation of cities from the North Sea to the Baltic. With wealth came prestige, and soon the counts of Guelders were allying themselves with other powerful men in the area, like the count of Luxembourg and the archbishop of Cologne. These were relatively far away and thus had no interests at risk. Closer to home the position was more unstable, with the territories of Holland, Flanders, Brabant and Cleves all being hostile at one point or another.
The duchy of Brabant was the real rival of Guelders: located south of Guelders, the rivers Rhine and Meuse were hotly contested by the two. Brabant managed to usurp the territory of Limburg in 1288, after a battlefield triumph at Worringen, but Guelders captured the city of Tiel and held on to it. In 1339, as a reward for loyal service, the County of Guelders was promoted to a duchy by the emperor, a further boost. And with Brabant involved in the Hundred Years War - to her own detriment - the dukes of Guelders were able to set up a considerable network of allies and semi-vassals, expanding her influence as far as possible.
The inhabitants of Guelders were a warlike people: a 16th century Dutch song names the various talents of each area, with the Brabanders apparently knowing how to cook a rabbit, while the Zeelanders serve fine fish; the Gelderlanders, on the other hand, are very well armed - and quick to deal out a punch or two! Not just outsiders would suffer from this, but locals too; the 14th century saw many years of bloody civil war, when two brothers, Reinald and Eduard, fought for control of the Duchy, supported by rivaling factions. Eduard, the younger, was eventually successful while Reinald was confined to a prison tower. When Eduard was killed in battle against Brabant, Reinald was released, but apparently had grown so corpulent the doorway had to be broadened to allow his exit.
The 15th century started the slow decline of Guelders: Brabant and Holland, now incorporated into the Burgundian realm, were governed more efficiently and saw a huge boost to their economies. Both Brabant and Holland were strong traders, and where Antwerp became the most important harbour and trading centre north of Paris, Holland went to war with the German Hansa League and came out victoriously, basically monopolising the Baltic trade; the cities of Guelders part of the Hansa suffered accordingly. On the plus side, the dukes of Guelders were still much respected and became vassals of Philip the Good of Burgundy. They fought alongside him in some of his campaigns, were present at his banquets and became Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
But again, Guelders' own unrest caused its downfall, when father and son quarreled over the duchy. Charles the Bold of Burgundy saw this as a good enough reason for intervention and occupied the lands, naming himself heir of the duke - who died soon after - and thus becoming duke of Guelders himself in 1473. A decade later, Guelders had rewon its independence under Karel van Egmond (grandson of the last duke of Guelders) who much expanded the lands. Making a union of Friesland, Groningen, Drenthe, Overijssel and his own Guelders, he defied imperial Habsburg power and brought fire and sword to their lands, until, by 1530, his new lands deserted him. Upon the death of his successor in 1543 the duchy, as last of the Dutch lands, was incorporated into the Habsburg realm.
Helvetia, the "Oath-takers" (1218 on)
When the powerful Zähringer dynasty ended with the death of Berchtold V in 1218, their cities (including Berne and Fribourg) became Reichsfrei (essentially a city-state within the Holy Roman Empire), while the dukes of Kyburg competed with the house of Habsburg over control of the rural regions of the former Zähringer territory. Under the Hohenstaufen rule, the alpine passes in Raetia and the St. Gotthard Pass gained importance. The latter especially became an important direct route through the mountains. Uri (in 1231) and Schwyz (in 1240) were accorded the Reichsfreiheit to grant the Empire direct control over the mountain pass. Most of the territory of Unterwalden at this time belonged to monasteries which had previously become reichsfrei.
The extinction of the Kyburg dynasty paved the way for the Habsburg dynasty to bring much of the territory south of the Rhine under their control, aiding their rise to power. Rudolf I of Habsburg, who became Holy Roman emperor in 1273, effectively revoked the status of Reichsfreiheit granted to the "Forest Cantons" of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden. The Forest Cantons thus lost their independence and were governed by reeves.
Unhappy to have their freedoms limited, the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden united against the Habsburgs in 1291. At the battles of Morgarten (1315) and Sempach (1386), the Swiss defeated Habsburg armies and secured a de facto independence. By then, they had been joined by the cantons of Glarus and Zug and the city states of Lucerne, Zürich, and Berne, creating the "Old Federation". They usually referred to themselves as the "Eidgenossen", the "Oath-takers". As the Habsburgs lost imperial power to the house of Luxembourg in 1308, they could no longer reinforce their military might with legal power. The new emperors confirmed the independence within the empire of the Swiss regions, and as a result gained a valuable ally against the ambitious Habsburgs.
The alliance of the "Eight Places" was a not a homogeneous state, but rather a conglomerate of eight independent cities and lands, held together not by one single pact but by a net of six different "eternal" pacts, none of which included all eight parties as signatories. Only the three founders, the Waldstätten Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden were part of all these treaties. All eight parties would still pursue their own particular interests, most notably in the cases of the strong cities of Zürich and Berne.
The Old Zürich War, which began as a dispute over the succession to the county of Toggenburg, was the most serious test of the unity of the Eight Places. Zürich did not accept the claims of Schwyz and Glarus, which were supported by the rest of the cantons, and in 1438 declared an embargo. The other members of the confederation expelled Zürich in 1440 and declared war. In retaliation Zürich made a pact with the Habsburgs in 1442. The other cantons invaded Zürich's lands and besieged the city, without success. By 1446, both sides were exhausted, and a preliminary peace was concluded. In 1450, the parties made a definitive peace and Zürich was admitted into the confederation again, but had to dissolve its alliance with the Habsburgs. The confederation had grown into a political alliance so close that it no longer tolerated separatist tendencies of its members.
Further expansion was achieved in the second half of the 15th century. A number of cities, such as Stein am Rhein, Schaffhausen, St Gallen and Rapperswil became part of the Confederation, and Fribourg, Rottweil and Mulhouse became associates. The Thurgau and Vaud were occupied, to the detriment of Austria and Savoy. The Swiss were by now very powerful, as the many cities could afford to raise sizable and well-trained contingents. They proved their skills in the Swiss-Burgundian War, where they aggressively attacked the Burgundian Duke Charles the Bold, who they feared was going to limit their future expansion - there had been no direct threat to Swiss territory. The war, while giving the Swiss no real territorial benefits, had created a solid reputation for their pikemen and halberdiers, and before long all the great states of Europe were employing Swiss troops, or drilling their own armies in similar style. Not until the French Revolution would Swiss independence be challenged again.
At its height in the Middle Ages, the Kingdom of Hungary was a major regional power in the east, capable of influencing politics in southern Italy as well as the Balkan Peninsula, and was a major partner to the Kingdom of Poland and the Holy Roman Empire.
Modern Hungary was said to have been born in the midst of the Byzantine-Bulgar wars of the 9th century. The Hungarian leader, Árpád, allied his tribe with the Byzantines and smashed the Bulgars, but were in turn driven out by a Bulgar-Pecheneg alliance, eventually settling in the Carpathian basin and proceeding to raid territories of the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire alike, until military defeats in 955 and 970 decimated their armies. By 1000, the Magyar kingdom was well on the way to becoming a unitary Christian state, centred around Esztergom (near present-day Budapest).
Vajk, Grand Prince of the Magyars, was crowned king in 1000 by Pope Sylvester on Christmas Day, with the consent of the Holy Roman emperor, Otto II. His reign would see the creation of modern Hungary as he strengthened Christianity throughout his realm as the official religion, and his successors would continue building up Hungary into a powerful nation which even exceeded the power of the French by the 12th century. Unlike other nations in Europe, which often experienced instability due to the feudal system, Hungary remained a rather stable kingdom. It opened relations with the Germans and the Poles, annexed Croatia into its sphere of power and even expelled the Byzantines from the Balkans. It was this same Hungary too that withstood the Mongols on their expedition into Europe in the 13th century.
Yet feudalism crept in. Originally, Hungarian kings were the largest land owners, but as time passed by and the complexity of the Hungarian state meant that trade and industry reduced the importance of agriculture and other primary economic activities, the kings of Hungary were forced to cede lands to nobles in order to maintain their allegiance to Esztergom. In 1222, frustrated with taxes to pay for wars with the Teutonic order (then active in the Carpathians), Magyar nobles confronted their king Andrew II and forced him to sign the Golden Bull (the word "Bull" being a from the Latin word for "seal"), a series of laws limiting the king and compelling his successors to pledge to uphold the Bull's statutes before he or she could assume the crown. The power of the king eventually waned in 1301 when king Andrew III died, leaving no suitable heir to the House of Árpád and a kingdom on the verge of civil war. A new series of kings was appointed from the House of Anjou, however; this guaranteed victory against the Turks; stability and prosperity in equal measures; and more heroic days for Central Europe, and the emergence of great figures such as Matthew Korvín (also known as Matthias Corvinus) and Hunyadi Janós.
Matthew Korvín was an archetypical Renaissance man: he was equally adept in the martial science as much as he was well-versed with the arts and culture: Magyarophiles attest that Hungary experienced the Renaissance first before the Italians did. It was said that the great king Matthew was planning to become the next Holy Roman Emperor, when he died suddenly in 1490, supposedly by poisoning. This age of renewed growth and prestige however was not to last, as Hungary continued to suffer from the same problems brought on by feudalism: disunity and weak kings.
After Matthew Korvín's death, the local magnates and barons decided to elect a Polish prince, Vladislaus II of Bohemia, to rule as their king. Vladislaus and his heirs would prove to be the downfall of Hungary: their acquiescence to the nobles weakened the power of Hungary's centralised authority. Over time, Hungary was partitioned by the Turks and eventually annexed to the Ottoman and Habsburg empires, unable to emerge as a sovereign state again until the end of the First World War.
Papal States (726–1870CE)
During the Dark Age, Italy was a nation divided. The Western Roman Empire existed only in name since 476, and was now divided into several small states led by the warlords of barbarian tribes known as the "Longbeards" or Lombards, to the north. As a result, there was a need for a central authority in the Italian peninsula that could provide some semblance of order in the social and economic chaos resultant from the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire in Italy. Financially and politically, the ties between Byzantium and Rome were weakening, yet they were not severed altogether until 726, when the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (717-741) unleashed the Great Iconoclasm — a prohibition of the usage of icons and the purging thereof, resulting in a serious religious crisis that would last for decades and which in Italy, pushed the limits of Byzantine power.
It was now thus clear that the Church of Rome had to think about distancing itself further from the Byzantines and yet defend against the Lombards who surrounded Central Italy from North and South. A boost to Papal authority came along with the invasion of the Lombard king Liutprand who defeated the Byzantines and was bound to march upon Rome. However, the hostility of citizens in territories conquered by him and the arguments of the Pope convinced the pious Liutprand to give up the attempt. He ceded the castrum of Sutri to the Duchy of Rome, as a gift to the "beato Petro apostolorum principi". Four cities would eventually form the patrimony of the Church in Sabina. These actions did not merely just confirm the role of the Pope as the spiritual leader of all Christianity, but as the representative of the Roman people as well. Holy Roman Empire Despite having thrown off the Byzantine yoke by default, and also having evaded Lombard attempts to take Rome, the Church was still open to attack, and so decided to seek a new ally which could grant it the protection it still wanted. A papal delegation crowned Pippin the Short of the Franks in 754 as "Patrician of the Romans", and Frankish armies poured into Northern Italy, defeating the Lombards. The modern Papal States were created as Pippin donated the territories of the former Exarchate of Ravenna to the Church. The ties between the Franks and the Church became even closer with the coronation of Charlemagne as "Emperor of the Romans", creating the Holy Roman Empire in the 9th century.
Under this arrangement where the Papacy would give its sanction to a chosen German king, the Mediaeval Papacy would achieve its peak of power under Innocent III. However, as time came by, the Holy See would eventually regret its actions, as it would be driven to conflict with its supposed "protectors", the Emperors over the question of whether it was the Emperor or the Pope who could dictate laws over temporal affairs. Further conflicts would be spawned as the Carlovingian empire would be split up, weakening the power of the Emperors to the benefit of the Roman aristocracy. It was at this time that urban settlement patterns in Italy changed, with people leaving the more arable lands near rivers for the safety of redoubts built near defensive sites on high ground, known as 'rocche'. As conflict between Pope and Emperor arose, the territories of the Holy See, once one of the world's safest places, now became a dangerous place as local warlords strove for power with one another. By the 14th century, Rome was no longer safe and Clement V, a Frenchman, instead moved the Papacy and the administering Curia to Provence, abandoning Rome.
The Papacy would be back by 1420 in Rome; however by then the so-called Eternal City was now full of mouldering ruins and economically bankrupt. Much work had to be done and blood spilled in order to restore the Holy See of Rome to working order, and so massive renovation projects took place throughout Rome and its surrounding provinces, with Papal armies created in order to put down the lawlessness that dominated the years of the Avignon papacy. It was during the 15th and 16th centuries that modern Rome of Renaissance elegance would appear, and the Papacy would reign supreme over central Italy, but the cost of doing so would spark the Reformation and the Thirty Years' War, resulting in declining Papal influenceworldwide. By the time of the French Revolution the Papal States were weak, corrupt and facing increasing civil unrest. Napoleon invaded Italy and occupied the Papal States, and even abducted the Pope, forcing him to crown Napoleon as Emperor. Although he was defeated and the Papal States restored, the political unrest continued and the rise of the Kingdom of Sardinia as a major player in Italian politics eventually saw the Papal States, already mostly geopolitically irrelevant, shorn of its territories not just in Central Italy alone but within Rome itself, reducing the territory it controlled to the very limits of the Vatican Hill in Rome.
Poland (1025 on)
Poland, during the early Middle Ages, operated on the very fringes of the Holy Roman Empire. Because of this, little is known of its political history before 966, when its rulers were baptised. In the following period the country, initially a duchy, maintained a loose relation with the Empire, sometimes as a vassal, sometimes as an ally. In 1025 Duke Boleslaw the Brave was crowned the first King of Poland, and independence was firmly established. Unfortunately, there was only about a century of this, partly marred by civil wars between siblings. Boleslaw III thought a more lasting peace could be achieved by giving all, rather than one, of his male children a part of his Kingdom. He hoped this would create harmony between the four brothers rather than bloodshed. Unfortunately, he was wrong: after Boleslaw's death in 1038 the Kingdom fell apart in four different pieces that essentially became independent duchies.
Poland remained fractured until the end of the 13th century. By then, two major events had taken place. Firstly, the Mongol invasion had devastated the Polish countryside after the defeat of the Polish army at Liegnitz. The severity and extent of the destruction is still debated, but it was most likely responsible for the second event: the German 'Ostsiedlung'. In the wake of the Mongol invasion, part of Poland was depopulated, and many German settlers moved east. As in Bohemia and the shores of the Baltic, they were hoping to turn from serfs in Germany to respectable freemen beyond the Empire's borders, and they helped revive agricultural production and crafts in some areas, as well as creating or (re-)populating Polish cities. The German institutions and town laws influenced many aspects of Polish urban life, as German laws were often held to be more advanced than the local variants and copied. Because of this it is sometimes hard to differentiate between Germans and Germanised Poles. There was also an influx of Jews, who were welcomed with open arms at about the same time they were banished from England by Edward I.
Wladyslaw I became King in 1320 and spearheaded another period of unification, partly with foreign assistance. His son Kazimierz (Casimir) III 'the Great' made even more of an impression. Reigning from 1330 on, he can be compared to the Emperor and King of Bohemia Karel IV. Kazimierz, too, founded an important and lasting university, at Krakow in 1364, making it one of the first of such centres of learning north of the Alps. And despite a desperate situation at the beginning of his reign, when he was under threat from both Bohemia and the Teutonic Order, the King not only managed to keep them at bay, but also managed to expand his Kingdom by the time of his death. He left no male heir.
The Kingdom of Poland was united with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in something of a surprise move, when the 'King' Jadwiga cancelled her engagement with Sigismund of Luxembourg, who would later become Emperor, and married Grand Duke Jogaila in stead. This event prevented the personal union of the Holy Roman Empire and Poland and no doubt contributed to the country's lasting political independence. The union with Lithuania, meanwhile, strengthened Poland's military with the addition of the skilled Lithuanian nobility. These were more lightly armed than their Polish equivalents and had in part copied their tactics from the Mongols. Together, the two countries fought against the Teutonic Order and inflicted a very major defeat on it in 1410 at Grunwald or Tannenberg. The battle had no direct political repercussions, although it coincided with the beginning of a permanent drop in western volunteers flocking to the Order. More wars were fought, however, and by the end of the century the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order had become no more than a vassal of Poland.
By the end of the 15th century, then, Poland had successfully defeated or negated its most important enemies: the Empire was no longer encroaching on Poland's border from the west and the north, the Teutonic Order had ceased to exist, the Lithuanian Grand Duchy in the East was a close ally in a dynastic union and the Mongol threat was gone for good. Poland had survived the Middle Ages, but the future was to offer many more crises to be overcome.
The county of Savoy is largely forgotten today, but in the past it was an important territory. It turned from a county into a duchy, and from a duchy into a kingdom. Located partly on the western Alps, it held a pivotal position in western European politics and military, with a foothold in Imperial, French and Italian lands. In this article we will briefly outline the medieval history of this no longer existing country.
Savoy was born when the king of Burgundy, Rudolph III, granted territories on the Italian half of the Alps to Umberto Biancamano in 1003.Shortly after this, the kingdom of Burgundy was incorporated into the Holy Roman Empire, but the Emperors never spent much time on Savoy, allowing it to become a semi-independent state.
Amadeus III made large additions to the county of Savoy, and improved ties with France. He actually went on crusade with King Louis VII of France. With the power of the Empire waning, French interest and influence into Savoyard territories increased; however, it would take several centuries beyond the scope of this article before the majority of Savoyard lands became incorporated into France.
It was Tommaso I who conquered the Vaud, a territory part of modern day Switzerland, thus increasing the Savoyard hold over the Alps. Tommaso was a conqueror in more than one aspect: he ambushed the wife-to-be of French King Philip II and married her himself!
With the Alps secure and a foothold on both sides of it, Savoy's influence was extensive. Their control of the Alps allowed them to prevent the ever-popular Italian mercenaries from reaching their masters, and they could also set tolls on the trade across the mountains. This powerful position was rewarded politically when the county of Savoy was elevated to a duchy in 1416. Shortly thereafter the dukes of Savoy acquired a piece of cloth that would outlast the duchy: the Turin Shroud.
During the 1470s, Savoy became a puppet-state of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. His attempt to incorporate the duchy into his own territories was prevented when the Swiss delivered a severe blow to the Burgundians at the battle of Murten, causing the Savoyards to rebel successfully. However, the vital Vaud territories were conquered by the Swiss, and still form part of Switzerland today. The rest of Savoy has been split up between France and Italy since.
After the division of the Carolingian empire in the Treaty of Verdun (843), the eastern part was relatively rudderless, with weak kings and internal strife as well as vicious border warfare against the Slavs. The duchy of Saxony was then the principal German state within the kingdom, and when the Carolingian family line died out, they were replaced by the Saxon Liudolfinger line. Soon after, the kingdom was elevated to an empire, and a new line of emperors sprung up: the Ottonian dynasty, starting with Otto I the Great.
As Otto I became more and more powerful, particularly after his victory of the Magyars at the battle of the Lechfeld (955), he had to rely less on his Saxon lands, and so he handed them over to the Billung family in 960. After one and a half century, this line went extinct, and Emperor Heinrich V in 1137 gave the territory to Heinrich the Proud, of the Welf family, a move he and his successors would soon regret. The Welfs were notorious troublemakers, starting a period of civil war that would last intermittently until the battle of Bouvines (1214), and was to seriously undermine imperial authority.
Heinrich the Proud's son was the most famous Welf: Heinrich the Lion, a clever and endlessly ambitious man, who also united Pommerania, Mecklenburg, Brunswick as well as Bavaria under his wing, becoming more powerful than Emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa. He founded Munich and Lubeck. Heinrich received the Imperial Ban in 1180, and the following year the great duchy of Saxony was divided into many pieces; many of its episcopal sees and cities became self-governing, leading to a flowering of religious as well as municipal art and architecture.
After the dissolution of "old" Saxony, the name Saxony was first applied to a small part of the ancient duchy situated on the Elbe around the city of Wittenberg. This was given to Bernard of Ascania, the second son of Albrecht the Bear. Bernard's son, Albrecht I, added to this territory the lordship of Lauenburg, and his sons divided the possessions into Saxe-Wittenberg and Saxe-Lauenburg. When in 1356 the Emperor Karel IV issued the Golden Bull, the fundamental law of the empire which settled the method of electing the German emperor, the duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg was made one of the seven electorates. The duke as elector thereby received the right to elect, in company with the other six electors, the German emperor. In this way the country, though small in area, obtained an influential position.
Old Saxony, meanwhile, continued to grow in importance, even if it was disorganised. It was home to a number of important bishoprics, such as Münster, and its cities became wealthy and powerful. The Hanseatic League originated in part in the cities in Saxony and in part in cities established by the Saxon settlers who had moved east and expanded the German territory to Poland and, later, Lithuania. It was their drive against the Lithuanian pagans in the east that enabled the Teutonic Order to become as important as it did.
New Saxony's position as an electoral state forbade the division of the territory among several heirs. The importance of this stipulation is shown by the history of most of the German principalities which were not electorates. The Ascanian line of Saxe-Wittenberg became extinct in 1422. The Emperor Sigismund bestowed the country and electoral dignity upon Margrave Friedrich the Valiant of Meissen, a member of the Wettin line, an old and powerful family. Saxe-Wittenberg and the margraviates of Meissen and Thuringia were then united into one country, which gradually received the name of Saxony. Elector Friedrich the Valiant died in 1464, and his two sons made a division of his territories at Leipzig on 26 August, 1485, which led to the still existing separation of the Wettin dynasty into the Ernestine and Albertine lines. Duke Ernest, the founder of the Ernestine line, received by the Partition of Leipzig the duchy of Saxony and the electoral dignity united with it, besides the landgraviate of Thuringia; Albrecht, the founder of the Albertine line, received the margraviate of Meissen.
Scotland before the 9th century was entirely unlike the modern-day nation. Lesser kingdoms divided the country, such as the Picts in the north-east and the Scots of Dal Riada in the west. The Vikings had strong holdings in the Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetland, while many independent kingdoms (such as Fife) were mostly Briton in nature. This all changed when Coinneach (Kenneth) MacAlpin, united the Picts and Dal Riada under one name - the Scots - in 832.
While the unification was only in name at first, soon enough of the tribes and petty kingdoms were banded together; at least in the Lowlands. In the Highlands, the clans paid little heed to the southern monarchs, and the islanders under nominal Viking 'rule' lived quiet lives on the most part, although Somerled's conquest of the Norse-held islands in the 1130s was a notable event. The scarcity of fertile land outside of the Central Belt led to the most prosperous areas being centred around Edinburgh and Stirling; Glasgow was but a small town until centuries after Medieval times. Indeed, the Highlanders did well to ignore the dealings of the kings as much as possible - civil wars and countless battles meant that many of the early kings died in the saddle.
The 'modernisation' of Scotland began with Malcolm III 'Caennmòr' (Big Head), ruled between 1058 and 1093. His second marriage to St. Margaret the Exile secured a connection to the House of Wessex and paved the way for the Anglo-Norman feudal system to gain prominence in the north. This cultural shift meant that many of the Scottish nobles became more or less Anglicised - speaking in Norman French primarily, and operating under a new system of land ownership. The old system of 'runrig' (each family having a strip of land or 'croit') survived only in the Highlands and Islands, and did so up until the 19th century. Never a rich country, Scotland appeared primitive to many of the English nobles who had ties to the lords north of the border; this impression was apparently reinforced in 1286.
Scotland was flung into chaos in that year, when Alexander III died without a male heir in a riding accident. His granddaughter, Margaret (Maid of Norway) ruled for 4 years but only in name - she never visited Scotland and died aged 7. Here followed a period of squabbles and feuding between potential candidates for the throne, and King Edward I of England saw this as a prime time to get a stake in the troublesome Scots, who took frequent pleasure in raiding the Northern Marches. He supported John Balliol, one of the three strongest candidates, and placed him on the Scottish throne as a puppet king. Balliol was not happy with this state of affairs, and while he was a very weak king who ultimately let Scotland fall under English rule in 1296, he did forge an "Auld Alliance" with France and Norway which lasted for many years to come.
King Edward's rule in Scotland went mostly unopposed, apart from a rebellion in 1296 by William Wallace, who compromised his position in later years and was captured and executed. The kingship of Scotland, through much backstabbing and excommunication-baiting, passed to Robert the Bruce in 1306. Bruce spent much of his early reign as a fugitive in the Western Isles, and his early confrontations with the English armies ended in disaster. However, his small and inexperienced forces gradually grew, and the tide began to turn shortly before King Edward I's death. With 'Longshanks' gone, the English had only his son, Edward II, as a leader, and he proved to be a most inefficient one.
Bruce's forces beat young Edward's in battle after battle, culminating in the most humiliating defeat the English ever suffered at the hands of the Scots: the battle of Bannockburn. An enormous mass of knights and men-at-arms broke themselves on the Scottish schiltrons (walls of pikes and spears that were arranged so as to make charging into it like running into a wall of steel points), and the English fled home in disarray. The Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 asserted Scotland's independence - and while peace between England and Scotland was short-lived (leading to a blunderous and little-remembered battle at Neville's Cross, in which the outcome of Bannockburn was more or less reversed), the continuation of Scotland as a nation instead of a province was assured. Many centuries later in 1603, the crowns of the two kingdoms were united under King James VI of Scotland and I of England, but during the Middle Ages, the rivalry between these two countries was at its most intense.
Venice's past stretches back well into classical history, but the modern city as we know it is far more recent. In Roman times, there were a group of Celtic tribes who settled the northern Adriatic coast of Italy, known to the Romans as the Venetii who would eventually be assimilated into mainstream Roman society as fully-fledged citizens, but it was not to be until the chaotic 6th century AD that the modern city and republic of Venice would fully emerge.
When the Lombards invaded Italy in 568, one of the first cities in their path was Aquileia — a Christian town of long-standing importance, traditionally held to have been founded by St Mark. Many of its inhabitants, fleeing southwards, crossed the sea and settled on the isle of Torcello — the nucleus of the city of Venice. Torcello was geographically separated from the Byzantine government at Ravenna, and so the survival of the community was by then largely in their own hands, and in 726 for the first time elected a doge (the equivalent of 'duke', from the Latin dux meaning 'leader'). Much later, the doge transferred the seat of rule to two adjacent islands, where the land was a little higher above water level, though in Venice the distinction is a subtle one. To either side of the intervening waterway was a rivo alto ('high bank'), from the which the name Rialto derives, on which the famous market now stands. The growing town however needed prestige, and so Saint Mark, the patron saint of Aquileia (in effect the parent city), was adopted as its patron saint, and the saint's relics arrived in the city in 828, reputedly smuggled in from Egypt. The Doges skillfully not only played off the Franks and the Byzantines against one another, but even profitted from it too, leading to a Franco-Byzantine treaty in 814 that guaranteed autonomy for the city-state.
As part of both worlds, east and west, perfectly placed between the Mediterranean and the mountain passes up through the Alps into northern Europe, Venice was now poised to make her fortune from trade. Expeditions sent out to deter raids by Saracen and Croat pirates soon led to the city-state placing garrisons in ports throughout Istria and Dalmatia, under the communal leadership of merchants and shipping magnates, after the same having blocked all attempts by some families (such as the houses of Partecipazio, Candiano and Orseolo) to establish hereditary rule in Venice. To keep the Alpine passes and the Straits of Otranto free from foreign influence (as any power which could dominate both ends would then have a stranglehold on the Venetian mercantile economy) Venetian influence expanded over the Balkans and Epirus in order to keep the Straits of Otranto free, and also joined the Lombard League in order to preserve the independence of the Italians and limit the power of the Holy Roman Emperor in Italy. Unsurprisingly, this expansion resulted in rivalry and even violent conflict between the Venetians and their neighbours: among these was the maritime republic of Genoa, on the other side of the Italian peninsula.
Three events would eventually destroy Venetian hegemony in Europe. The discovery of the New World and the new overseas empires in Asia and Africa would sidetrack Venice's economy, while the Italian Wars of the 16th century would eventually destroy its empire in Italy, while the eastern protectorates would be overrun by the Ottomans. The republic would nevertheless retain some semblance of its economic status during the Early Industrial Era, until it was annexed by Napoleon in 1796. Venice would then be passed over to the Austrians after Napoleon, before being annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.
In the power vacuum left when the Romans abandoned the British Isles, many small Celtic kingdoms sprang up, opposing each other continuously. Germanic peoples, brought to Britain by the Romans as mercenaries, quickly alarmed their countrymen back home, and before the Celts had managed to unify, the Germans (particularly Saxons, Angles, Jutes and Frisians) were all over England. The Celts were forced back to Cornwall, Scotland and Wales.
Wales contained several small kingdoms, although there were a few rulers, such as Rhodri the Great, who controlled nearly all of Wales. The separate kingdoms, with the help of the mountainous terrain, managed to hold the Germans at bay. The English, as they were soon known, managed to conquer Cornwall, but gave up trying to conquer Wales. All they wanted was to control it: the English king Offa built a long earthen wall, still visible today, supposedly to show where England ended and Wales began.
When the Normans invaded England in 1066, a new invasion of Wales was started. This time it consisted mostly of freebooters and settlers, primarily from Normandy and Flanders. They settled mostly in the south of Wales, slowly working their way from Gloucestershire to Pembrokeshire, where the important St. David's Cathedral was (and is) located. The Welsh lords could do little, as openly fighting the Normans would result in war with England; yet allowing the Normans to settle would erode their own powers.
Although the Normans had gained a foothold in south Wales, it was tenuous at best. In the north, things fared better, and the Normans drove out the king of Gwynedd. Welsh resistance was centred on the western part of the land. In the 12th century, the situation reversed. The lords of Gwynedd returned from exile in Ireland and pushed out the Normans in very little time, while in the south the Welsh were fighting a losing battle against royal power. Soon, the lords of the south were of little importance, while the princes of Gwynedd would become the dominant figures in Welsh politics.
The Welsh ways of warfare were very different from those of the English; they used hit-and-run raids to discourage English morale, attacking supplies and lone troops. Their guerrilla warfare was merciless, and relied mostly on their infamous longbows and javelins.
There was only one answer to this: building impregnable castles all over Wales to cement royal power. The Welsh Wars, as they are called, saw Llywelyn II, prince of Gwynedd, pitted against King Edward I. At first, the Welsh were fighting quite successfully against the English, but when Llywelyn II was killed in a skirmish, the Welsh cause collapsed. The remaining Welsh freedom fighters were captured and executed for treason.
Wales was conquered in 1283, but held on to its identity. The English adopted the famous Welsh weapon, the longbow, and for centuries to come the Welsh would find profession mostly in English - later British - armies.