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Year 8: T1: Medieval Europe

Bayeux Tapestry - Primary Visual Sources

A scene from the 11th century CE Bayeux Tapestry showing the death of King Harold of England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 CE. (Centre Guillaume le Conquérant, Bayeux, France).

Bayeux Tapestry 1067. Harold II crowned King of England, 6 January 1066. Harold enthroned holding orb and sceptre, Archbishop Stigand on his right. Anglo-Saxon Coronation Ceremony Christian Textile Embroidery Linen.

Bayeux Tapestry 1067: Horses being unloaded from Norman boats at Pevensey, south coast of England, 28 September 1066. Battle of Hastings between William of Normandy and Harold of England, 14 October 1066. Invasion Textile Linen

Edward sends Harold as a messenger to Duke William in Normandy. Harold rides to Bosham with his men. They feast in his hall. They set sail for Normandy.

Halley's Comet on the Bayeux Tapestry. It was seen by some as an ill omen for King Harold of England, who was then defeated by French invaders.

Black Death - Primary Visual Sources

Clothes infected by the Black Death are burned in medieval Europe, c1340. An illustration from the ‘Romance of Alexander’ in the Bodleian Library, Oxford Bodleian Library MS. Bodl. 264 83r

Burying bodies in Tournai. At the peak of the mass mortality, urban space for the numerous plague deaths was becoming scarce everywhere, as this dramatic depiction of Tournai in 1349 shows. © KIK-IRPA, Brussels

The plague brings out the most base cruelty in people: in 1349 innocent Jews are burned as scapegoats in Tournai, and the members of society's upper echelons look on with satisfactions. © KIK-IRPA, Brussels

Catherine of Siena who, according to legend, overcame the plague several times, around 1461 with the nimbus of a saint, Detroit Institute of Arts

This etching depicts a 17th-century protective garment worn in France and Italy. It worried people because it represented impending death. It was made up of an ankle-length coat, a bird-like snouted mask, gloves, boots, gloves, a hat, and another layer of clothes. These masks included glass eye holes and a strap that kept the beak-shaped mask in front of the doctor’s nose. The mask also featured two small nose openings and was a form of early respirator that contained sweet or pungent odors. In addition, the beak might store dried flowers, spices, herbs, or camphor.  The mask’s objective was to keep foul odors, known as miasma, at bay, which were considered to be the major cause of the ailment. This was later confirmed by germ theory.
Paulus Fürst: Doctor Schnabel von Rom (c. 17th Century).  I. Columbina, ad vivum delineavit. Paulus Fürst Excud〈i〉t.

Dark Ages - Primary Visual Sources

The ideas of Aristotle and Plato, shown in Raphael's The School of Athens, were partly lost to Western Europeans for centuries.

A Medieval famine scene. Credit: The Print Collector / Alamy Stock Photo.

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375): LII-Fuite de Clélia, jeune Romaine (CLOELIA, a Roman maiden), Le Livre des cleres et nobles femmes

Patients being treated in an image from a c.1450 copy of The Canon of Medicine, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Firenze.

A multiplication table decorated with fish and animals in colours and gold (British Library, Harley MS 549  fol. 14r)

An image of Socrates painted by Arabs during the Middle Ages. Well over a century old. Source

Feudalism & Peasants - Primary Visual Sources

Illustration depicting a schoolmaster administrating corporal punishment. Dated 16th Century.

Universal History Archive/UIG / Bridgeman Images

An image from Froissart’s Chronicle of Richard II meeting the Peasants Revolt. Jean Froissart, Chroniques 

Detail, Herman, Paul and Jean de Limburg, January, from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1413-16, ink on vellum (Musée Condé, Chantilly). Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Limbourg brothers - Tres riches heures du duc de berry

Herman, Paul and Jean de Limbourg, February, from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1413-16, ink on vellum (Musée Condé, Chantilly).Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Domesday Book is the oldest government record held in The National Archives. In fact, there are two Domesday Books – Little Domesday and Great Domesday, which together contain a great deal of information about England in the 11th century. In 1086, King William I (the Conqueror) wanted to find out about all the land in his new kingdom: who owned which property, who else lived there, how much the land was worth and therefore how much tax he could charge, so he sent official government inspectors around England to ask questions in local courts.

Peasant household. An image of a peasant household, including a woman preparing cheese. Cheese, Tacuinum sanitatis Casanatense (14th century)  

Agricultural calendar from a manuscript of Pietro Crescenzi, written c. 1306. Imagining the harvest in early modern Europe - Traces changes in European representations of harvests from 1400 to 1789. Pictures of the harvest in the sixteenth century; Images of a busy, sweat-drenched harvest.

Siege Warfare - Primary Visual Sources

Siege of Oreleans. and fortified towns were central to medieval warfare. Their strong defensive walls allowed small numbers of defenders to hold out against much larger forces. Though armies sometimes marched past and ignored them, this created risks. Small numbers of enemies could wreak havoc in an army’s rear, and until a castle or town was taken it was impossible to control the land around it.

Medieval siege of city 15th century Original edition from my own archives Source : "Georg Liebe - Der Soldat" 1899 Woodcut from Grieninger - Vergil Strassburg (1502). Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

A detail from the Bayeux tapestry showing the motte and bailey structure of Dinan during the 11th century Norman conquest of Britain. The wooden palisade sits atop the motte or mound. (Centre Guillaume le Conquérant, Bayeux, France) / Wikimedia Commons

A 13th century CE illustration showing a medieval siege in France. From the Maciejowski Bible, c. 1240 CE. (Pierpont Morgan Library)

The Battle of Aljubarrota (Castile vs Portugal, 1385) / British Library, Wikimedia Commons

Protective measures protect the gunners and troops of the besieging army in this 14th century siege of a fortress. This illustration is based on a description given in a medieval military handbook, “The Deeds and Arms of War” published anonymously in 1410 by the Italian-French author Christine de Pisan (c. 1364-1480). As of necessity, the two siege cannons (bombards) were located close to the walls, bringing the siege artillerymen under fire from the defenders on the walls. The cannons were shielded from projectiles by timber panels which could be swung out of the way. Either side of the cannon on the left are two gabions - wicker cages filled with earth to act as an embrasure. The gunners fire the weapons from trenches alongside. Meanwhile, a row of infantrymen take cover in a parallel trench before storming the walls following the opening cannonade.

WRITTEN - Primary Sources

And the while, William the earl landed at Hastings, on St Michael's-day: and Harold came from the north, and fought against him before all his army had come up: and there he fell, and his two brothers, Girth and Leofwin; and William subdued this land.'
  • Source: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
"William advanced towards Hastings where he built a fortification facing the sea."
  • Source: William of Poitiers, "Gesta Guillelmi," translated by R. H. C. Davis and Marjorie Chibnall.) William of Poitiers, a contemporary chronicler who wrote about the events leading up to the Norman Conquest, provides insights into the Battle of Hastings, which is a central event depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. In his work "Gesta Guillelmi" (The Deeds of William), he writes about Duke William's preparations for the invasion of England.
"Then was Earl Harold given the earldom over all England, and his men were very happy with this. And then he went out with a great army — men from Kent, and men from Surrey, and from Essex, and from Sussex, and from Hampshire; and constantly, for all the time that he was an earl, he had to guard this country against every invasion." (Entry for 1066: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)
"Then Duke William came from Valognes, and Count Eustace came from Boulogne. Many Frenchmen and many Bretons came; Flemishmen also came, and others from many lands, of whom I have no knowledge. There came men of Poitou, and of Gascony, of Burgundy, and of France; there came Angevins, and men of Normandy, and men of Brittany, and Picards, and men of many other lands."
  • Source: Wace, "The Roman de Rou," translated by Glyn S. Burgess.
"Meanwhile Harold, King of the English, was well aware that William, Duke of the Normans, was making ready a vast fleet, and collecting together a large army for the invasion of England."
  • Source: Florence of Worcester, "Chronicon ex Chronicis," translated by Thomas Forester.
"Edward, king of the English, departed this life, and Harold, son of Earl Godwin, was chosen king by the clergy and the people, and consecrated by Archbishop Ealdred."
  • Source: Henry of Huntingdon, "Historia Anglorum," translated by Diana Greenway.
"And therefore the plague, besides the destruction of humankind, produced notable changes in cities and in governments, both for better and for worse."...
Such a shortage of laborers ensued that the humble turned up their noses at employment, and could scarcely be persuaded to serve the eminent for triple wages.”
  • Source: Giovanni Boccaccio, "The Decameron," (1353) translated by G. H. McWilliam.

There died in Avignon in one day one thousand three hundred and twelve persons, according to a count made for the pope, and another day four hundred and fifty-eight persons and more. Three hundred and fifty-eight of the friars preachers in the region of Provence died during lent.

  • Source: Knighton, Henry. “The Impact of the Black Death.” eds. Ross, James B. and Mary M. McLaughlin. “The Portable Medieval Reader.” United States: Penguin Publishers. 1977. 217)

..there was such a shortage of servants, craftsmen, and workmen, and of agricultural workers and labourers... [that] churchmen, knights and other worthies have been forced to thresh their corn, plough the land and perform every other unskilled task if they are to make their own bread.

"At that time the mortality was so great that it left scarcely any one alive ... [and] laborers could exact their own terms, whether wages or clothing."

  • Source: William of Dene, "Chronicle," as cited in "The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time" by John Kelly.

"So many died that all believed it was the end of the world. And in many places no bells tolled, and no one wept no matter what his loss, for all awaited death."

  • Source: Agnolo di Tura, "Chronicle," as cited in "The Black Death: The Complete History" by Ole J. Benedictow.

"Wickedness increased to such a degree that [people] no longer had any regard for honesty or good faith, and robbery and trickery reached such a level that it was a rare thing to find anyone who would keep his word or fulfill his obligations." 

  • Source: Jean de Venette, "Chronicle," translated by Jean Birdsall.
After the cessation of the epidemic, all who survived gave themselves over to pleasures.”
  • Source: Matteo Villani, Florentine Chronicle, 14th century
"My fate is to live among varied and confusing storms. But for you perhaps, if as I hope and wish you will live long after me, there will follow a better age. This sleep of forgetfulness will not last for ever. When the darkness has been dispersed, our descendants can come again in the former pure radiance."
  • Source: Petrarch, "Letter to Posterity." Petrarch, an Italian scholar from the Renaissance, famously characterized the period preceding his own as a time of darkness and ignorance.
"The study of philosophy is not that we may know what men have thought, but what the truth of things is. It is a characteristic of the human race to seek to know."
  • Source: Thomas Aquinas, "Summa Theologica." Aquinas, a medieval philosopher and theologian, contributed significantly to the intellectual and philosophical developments of the Middle Ages. In his "Summa Theologica," he explores various theological and philosophical questions, demonstrating the intellectual vibrancy of the period. 
"All of creation is a symphony of the Holy Spirit which is joy and jubilation."
  • Source: Hildegard of Bingen, "Scivias." Hildegard, a medieval mystic, composer, and theologian, made significant contributions to theology, music, and natural history. In her visionary work "Scivias," she records her mystical experiences and theological insights, demonstrating the richness of intellectual and spiritual life in the Middle Ages

"Amid the errors there shone forth men of brilliant genius, who although they were incapable of stemming the torrent of barbarism, became conspicuous in their erudite works."

  • Source: Cardinal Caesar Baronius, Annales Ecclesiastici (published between 1588-1607)

"In these days, there shone forth many men of incomparable holiness, whom the Lord magnified with the signs of miracles and wonders."

  • Source: Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731 AD)

"Rome was great in arms, law and eloquence. But our Athens has surpassed it in the study of the arts and sciences."

  • Source: Alcuin of York, letter to Charlemagne (c. 790 AD)

“Souls ignite one another, minds fertilize one another, tongues exchange confidences; and the mysteries of this human being, a microcosm in this macrocosm, abound and spread.

  • Source: Abu Sulayman al-Sijistani, a philosopher living in Baghdad in the 10th century.

"The Gothic Age was not dark; it produced universities, windmills, mechanical clocks, spectacles, the guild-system, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio."

  • Source: Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of Renaissance Italy (1860)

"Our use of the term 'Dark Ages' to denote the early Middle Ages betrays our bias towards literacy and the written word."

  • Source: German historian Julius von Schlosser, History of Medieval Literature (1895)

Written Sources

Against the malice of servants who were idle and unwilling to serve after the pestilence without taking outrageous wages it was recently ordained by our lord the king, with the assent of the prelates, nobles and others of his council, that such servants, both men, and women, should be obliged to serve in return for the salaries and wages which were customary (in those places where they ought to serve) during the twentieth year of the present king’s reign (1346-7) or five or six years previously.

“It is the custom in England, as with other countries, for the nobility to have great power over the common people, who are serfs. This means that they are bound by law and custom to plough the field of their masters, harvest the corn, gather it into barns, and thresh and winnow the grain; they must also mow and carry home the hay, cut and collect wood, and perform all manner of tasks of this kind.” 

  • Source: Jean Froissart French medieval writer)

"At that time the peasants were so much at peace and tranquil that they scarcely knew what a helmet looked like."

  • Source: Jean de Venette, "Chronique."Jean de Venette, a French chronicler of the 14th century, provides insights into the social order of medieval France. His chronicle highlights the stability and predictability that the feudal system brought to the lives of peasants.

"When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men."

  • Source: John Ball, "Sermon of John Ball."John Ball was a radical priest and one of the leaders of the Peasants' Revolt in 14th-century England. In his famous sermon, he criticized the injustices of the feudal system and called for social equality.

"The rich, the mighty, and the nobles oppress the poor and the weak so cruelly that it is pitiful to see them."

  • Source: Jacques de Vitry, "Historia Orientalis." Jacques de Vitry, a medieval chronicler and bishop, wrote about the conditions of peasants in the Holy Land during the Crusades. His accounts reveal the hardships faced by peasants, including exploitation and oppression.

"The lord owes his vassal that all shall live in peace."

  • Source: Abbot Adalhard, Statutes of the Abbey of Corbie, 822 AD

"Between a serf and the lord of the manor there was a close tie...a feudal group knit closely together by common obligations."

  • Source: Bede, Concerning Times, 725 AD

"The wretched serf does immeasurably more than his lord prescribes for him...he dreads his lord's greed."

  • Source: Aelfric of Eynsham, Catholic Homily, 990-1010 AD

"The peasant subjected to his lord erupts in anger and rage."

  • Source: Régine Pernoud, Those Terrible Middle Ages: Debunking the Myths, 1977

"The lord spends his days in gluttony and lust, in gaming, hawking, hunting."

  • Source: German Abbot Hucbald, Description of the People of the Middle Ages, 930 AD

"Then the archers shot with bows, and the mangonels threw stones, and the knights and foot-soldiers with swords and spears fought hand to hand at the walls and gates, and so violently assailed them that they took the outer wall by force."

"The king of England had the town surrounded on all sides, and shut up by sea and land, so that no person could enter or go out without his leave. He had the sea watched by his ships, to prevent any succour being thrown in by that quarter; and had made his miners work night and day."

  • Source: "The Siege of Jerusalem" (Anonymous). This anonymous account describes the siege of Jerusalem during the First Crusade in 1099, providing vivid details of medieval siege warfare tactics.

"It is only the diligent and sagacious general who can draw up his army near the walls of a fortified town so as to take the greatest advantage of the nature of the place."

“The principal part of a siege is the construction of engines. These are of various kinds, and are used to throw darts and stones, to batter the walls, to undermine the foundations, to fill up the ditches, and to cast bridges over them.”

  • Source: Vegetius, "De Re Militari." Vegetius, a Roman writer from the 4th century, wrote "De Re Militari," a treatise on Roman military tactics and strategy. While not strictly medieval, his work influenced medieval military thought. In it, he discusses the importance of siege warfare and the use of siege engine.

"The king ordered his army to close in on the city and besiege it. They surrounded the city walls, constructing wooden siege engines and towers to attack the ramparts."

  • Source: Geoffrey of Villehardouin, Conquest of Constantinople, c. 1207

"We employed siege engines of every kind, battering rams, catapults, mangonels, petraries, Greek fire, crossbows, and slings. The defenders countered our every move."

  • Source: Raymond of Aguilers, Historia Francorum, 1099

"The bold attackers fought their way over ramparts and walls. The defenders showered stones, arrows and fire upon them. A fierce struggle ensued."

  • Source: Fulcher of Chartres, Chronicle of the First Crusade, early 12th century

"Miners hid themselves below ground, digging a hollow trench under the foundations. Propping up the ground with wood, they took away the lower stones."

  • Source: Guillaume le Breton, Philippide, c. 1220

“The trebuchet is a machine for throwing stones. It is made thus: two beams are laid across each other, and a sling is attached to the point where they cross. A stone is placed in the sling, and when the machine is set in motion, the stone is thrown with great force.”

  • Source: Guido de Columnis, an Italian writer from the 13th century CE, described the use of trebuchets.

Secondary Sources

GENERAL: Medieval Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Avalon Project: Medieval Documents

Best of History Websites: Medieval History (Middle Ages)

CORSAIR: Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts

Digital Scriptorium


Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Letters

Internet Medieval Sourcebook

Manuscripts Online: Written Culture 1000-1500

Medieval Travel Writing

Middle English Compendium

Patrologiae Graecae


Iter: Gateway to the Middle Ages and Renaissance - Provides "bibliographies of articles and reviews drawn from 518 medieval and renaissance journal titles".

Labyrinth - Global information network providing access to electronic resources in medieval studies.

Links to Other Chaucerian and Medieval Sites - Links to materials on Chaucer and to medieval Studies in general

The Medieval Review - Distributes reviews of current scholarly work in the field of medieval studies.

The Online Medieval & Classical Library - "A collection of some of the most important literary works of Classical and Medieval civilization."

Voice of the Shuttle: English Literature - Anglo Saxon and Medieval

ONESearch Database Explorer

The ENTIRE collection of resources provided by the BBC Birtles Library can be searched on ONE single, powerful search platform, which retrieves print books, eBooks, database articles and websites. Click HERE for assistance.

Useful databases

MyBib Referencing Generator - APA 7

Manage your bibliography using "MyBib" - Referencing - LibGuides at  Melbourne High School

MyBib is an online referencing generator to help you with in text references and your List of References.


  • Sign up for an account so that it will store the references for your assignment. Add it to your bookmark bar to find it quickly.
  • Install the Chrome extension to make your referencing even faster.
  • Make sure everything in your Reference List has a corresponding In-Text citation in the body of your essay.