How did Europe change socially, politically, and in education during the Medieval Period?
The Medieval Period, or Middle Ages, refers to the era between the fall of the Roman Empire in the West and the cultural transformations of the Renaissance. Historians generally agree that the Medieval Period began in the fifth century and ended in the fifteenth. Throughout this Period, many changes occurred, laying the foundations for Modern European society.
Medieval society was organized into three classes or Orders- oratores, laboratores, and bellatores. In Modern English, that is the people who pray (clergy,) people who work (peasantry,) and people who fight (nobility.) After the fall of the Roman Empire, society and power became far more localized and gave way to the Feudal System. In the Early period, society was primarily composed of subsistence farmers, who may have been ruled over by a king. In the Feudal System (which crystallized in the Middle and Late Periods,) land was owned by a king (as a kingdom) and divided up among noble families in return for their military service. The noble families then divided their parcel of land further among less-powerful families in return for their military service. (It was sort of a complex process of recruitment!) These land-holders, or vassals, would then manage their parcel of land, which was worked by peasants who lived on it. Over the Medieval Period, this system became increasingly complex, with one vassal potentially being obligated to many superiors. Conflict of interests were common, and the peasantry often revolted at unfair taxation and treatment.
Politics and government changed both drastically and rapidly throughout the Middle Ages. In the wake of the fall of Roman power, authority was "returned" to local warlord kings. Essentially, whoever was strongest or had the most fighters on their side won control over land. Kings often made war on each other in order to take more land and resources as their own. During the eighth and ninth centuries, much of Europe was unified under Charlemagne- Charles the Great. Charlemagne re-unified the secular and religious powers in his empire when he was coronated in 800 by the Pope. This gave way to many kings who ruled on divine authority. By the 11th century, the Carolingian Empire was dismantled by Viking and Magyar invasions, and power returned to local kings once again.
The Medieval Period had an increasing trend towards literacy and improvements in education. During the Early Middle Ages, infrastructure suffered, and Latin scholarship fell out of fashion. Most people had a religious education, but only clergy and nobility were literate, and very few people had any schooling in mathematics or the sciences. Charlemagne instituted a number of reforms of education, and was an avid student himself. He encouraged his family and members of court to study mathematics, astronomy, and logic, in addition to their religious education. During his legacy- the Carolingian Dynasty- a form of standardized script was developed. The Caroline Miniscule was implemented as a common means of writing and language so that texts produced in one area would be understood when read in another. Dialects and scripts varied widely throughout Europe, so the development of a uniform style of writing was a great benefit to education during the Middle Ages. In fact, the Modern English script I am using right now is based on Caroline Miniscule!
During the Middle and Late periods of the Middle Ages, there was a significant population boom due to advancements in agriculture. However, most of the population were still peasants and had limited access to education. Study of the sciences and mathematics were considered primarily for the nobility, but the invention of the printing press enabled a slow rise in literacy rates among the peasantry.