The High Middle Ages, spanning roughly 1000–1250 AD, is generally regarded as a period of reinvigoration for the European continent. Throughout these centuries, Europe experienced rapid social and cultural change, driven mainly by unprecedented rates of economic growth. This was also a time of intellectual revitalization, illustrated most clearly by the twelfth-century Renaissance, which provided the impetus for advances in the arts, science, and philosophy.
For the most part, this reinvigoration was due to the relative political stability that Europe enjoyed throughout this period. In turn, such stability was the product of a growing move towards the centralization of political power, with the feudal power of nobles gradually being weakened by the growing assertiveness of monarchs. Though tensions between monarchs and nobles remained throughout this period—one only has to think of King John's forced signing of the Magna Carta in 1215—king gradually gained the upper hand, arrogating more and more power to themselves, thus providing greater stability for their subjects.
A similar development can be observed in relation to the Papacy. During the High Middle Ages, the Papacy became transformed, acquiring more power and prestige, both spiritual and temporal. Successive popes saw themselves, not just as clerics, but as princes, every bit as entitled to acquire wealth and territory as their secular counterparts. With their new-found confidence, popes began to insist on their sole right to appoint bishops and archbishops to senior benefices, a right that had previously been exercised by secular rulers.
Wholesale reform of the monastic orders served to strengthen further the centralization of papal power. It also encouraged the development of monasteries as centers of learning as well as devotion. This was part of a huge burst of intellectual activity that took place during this period. It is certainly no accident that the High Middle Ages saw the birth of many of the great European institutions of learning such as the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Bologna.
Free from the threat of foreign invasion, due largely to the growth of monarchical and papal power, the burgeoning educational institutions of Europe could now promote learning and scholarship as never before.