Europe in the High Middle Ages by William Chester Jordan is the third book in the series The Penguin History of Europe. The High Middle Ages is the name given to the period of medieval history from 1000 to 1350. During these years, European civilization reached heights not seen in the West since the fall of the Roman Empire. The political situation in Europe stabilized somewhat, trade increased, cities grew, universities were established and learning flourished. The nations of Europe ceased to be helpless victims of foreign invasion and, through the Crusades even began to project power outside the continent.
Although the nations of Europe began to take their modern shape during the high middle ages, political power was extremely decentralized, especially in France, more than in the period immediately before and afterwards. The Papacy became more prominent on the international stage and powerful Popes could even challenge kings and emperors for influence. It all ended in the middle fourteenth century with a change in climate that caused a decade of famine. Then the horrors of the Black Death struck Europe in 1349. No institution in Europe survived unscathed, and the optimism and vitality of the High Middle Ages was gone. When Europe began to recover from these disasters, it was no longer the Middle Ages, but the Renaissance, and the West was moving in a new direction.
William Chester Jordan brings this fascinating period of history to life in his book. Like the other books in The Penguin History of Europe, The High Middle Ages focuses less on a detailed chronology of events and more on a general overview of cultural and historic developments, especially including the political development of the emerging nation states of Europe and their relationship with the Papacy. There is also a lot of information on the intellectual trends of the High Middle Ages as well as a good account of how it all seemed to fall apart in the fourteenth century. Unfortunately, the author breaks of the story in 1350, just as the Black Death is ravaging Europe, leading to a kind of cliffhanger effect. He also doesn’t give much space for the influences of Islamic culture on Europe’s development. Still, I can recommend Europe in the High Middle Ages for anyone who wants to learn more about that fascinating period of history.
- Thoughts on Teaching History in a Scale Up Classroom (Part VI) (mediterraneanworld.wordpress.com)
- Voting is medieval (volokh.com)
- Why Are the ‘Dark Ages’ Stigmatized? (lewrockwell.com)