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The culture of Early Middle Ages

Establishment of the kingdom of England. Danish raids on the British Isles. Cultural activity of king Alfred the Great. Establishment of the Danelaw. Spread of writing. The assimilation of the Danes and their contribution to British culture. Anglo-Saxon architecture and music. The Danes in Britain in X – XI c.




1. Why was the unification of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms into one kingdom in the 9th c. necessary?

2. Compare Danish raids on Britain with the raids made by the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th c.

3. What territory of Britain did the Danes manage to conquer?

4. What measures were taken by Alfred’s government to raise the level of culture in the country?

5. What is the importance of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle?

6. How did the Danish settlers in England influence the development of the country in the 10th – 11th c.?

7. What was the peculiarity of the feudal development of Britain in the Early Middle Ages as compared to the countries on the Continent?




Britain is divided into small administrative regions, many of which are called counties. Three regions, the counties of Essex, Sussex and Kent have the same names and cover the same areas as three of the former Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Other counties are probably based on areas where particular tribes once lived.

Counties were previously called shires. The original shires were the counties of the English Midlands, and the word became part of their name, e.g. Northamptonshire. Administrative and legal affairs were dealt with by shire courts presided over by shireeves, later called sheriffs. The shires were divided into smaller districts called hundreds. The large former county of Yorkshire was until 1974 divided into ridings after the three divisions of the IX c. Viking kingdom of York. Counties were for a long time the basis for local government.


The Norman Conquest of England


The beginning of the Norman invasion into Britain. The battle of Hastings. Historic place – Battle Abbey. Bayeux Tapestry – the history of conquest. The elements of Norman culture – Romanesque style, Norman castles: Leeds, Winchester, Lincoln, Bolton, Richmond castles. Gothic in England – Salisbury, Lincoln, Litchfild, Winchester cathedrals.




What were the reasons and the pretext for the Norman invasion?

What were the reasons for the defeat of the Anglo-Saxons at Hastings?

What is the Bayeux Tapestry?

What is and example of a Romanesque style in England?

Describe a Norman castle.

In what castle did Edward I, Edward II, Richard II, Henry V hold courts?

In what castle can we see the Round Table of King Arthur?

Give the examples of the three periods of English Gothic.




Thick walls and strong towers are characteristic features of Britain’s castles. About 1200 castles were built in the XI and XII c., but the grandest were built in Edward’s I reign (1272-1307). These include the castles of Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech, all in Wales, which were built by Edward after he defeated the Welsh leader Llewelyn ap Gruffydd. Many Scotch castles were built between the XIII and XVII c. They were tower houses, square buildings five or six floors high with small towers on top.

The castle was usually situated on top of a hill and had a reliable source of water. In the XI c. the Normans built motte and bailey castles. On top of a motte (a steep bank of earth) they built a wooden tower surrounded by a palisade (fence). Around this was a bailey (courtyard) which was surrounded by another palisade and a ditch. Later, wooden towers were replaced with stone towers, called keeps. The White Tower at the Tower of London, begun in 1078, is one of the earliest stone keeps.

In the XIII c., wooden fences were replaced by long, high curtain walls, made of stone, with battlements along the top. Many castles had a strong gatehouse or a moat which was crossed by a drawbridge.

Few castles are now lived in. Some are museums and many are open to the public.


English Medieval culture

The abolition of the great earldoms and Witenagemot. The Domesday Book – the main written record of the period. The town of Exeter – the western foremost post of the Normans. Three branches of culture – Latin, chivalric (French), folk (English). The chief forms of Medieval literature: chivalric romances, religious and secular poetry, ballads, miracles and mysteries, moralities, interludes. Chaucer – the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages. The development of the English language.




1.What prevented the feudal lords in England from becoming as powerful

and independent as those in France in the 11th century?

2. What was the Domesday Book? Why was it so called?

3. What do you know about the town of Exeter?

4. What kind poetry prevailed in the medieval England? Why?

5. Why did Arthurian romances gain a wide popularity?

6. Why is it difficult to identify the author of these romances?

7. What are the chief forms of medieval literature?

8. Why did mysteries and miracles survive till the 16th c.?

9. Who was the greatest writer of the Middle English Period?

Why has he earned the title of the Father of English Literature?

10. Why are the words sheep, ox, pig of Anglo-Saxon origin and the

corresponding words for the same animals used as meat mutton, beef, pork

of French origin?

11. Why are many synonymous words of Anglo-Saxon origin used

in ordinary speech, while those of French origin – in formal speech?

(to give up – to abandon, to give in – to surrender, to come in – to enter,

to begin – to commence, to go on – to continue).

12. What events in British history are the following towns associated


a) Winchester, Salisbury, Lincoln;

b) Exeter, Canterbury;

Explain the origin of their names.

13. Will you agree with the idea that the Norman conquest gave a new

impulse to the development of the Anglo-Saxon culture?


Arthurian Legend


The legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are the subjects of several poems and stories of the Middle Ages, as well as of later novels, musical plays and films, and are a central part of British tradition and folklore. The most important Arthurian works include Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur”, a set of long prose romances, written in the XV c., Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King”, a series of twelve poems and T.H. White’s novel “The Once and Future King”.

The real King Arthur is supposed to be a warrior chief who fought against the Anglo-Saxons and probably defeated them at the battle of Badon. Stories about him were collected in the XII c. by Geoffrey of Monmouth. According to legend, Arthur was born at Tintagel in Cornwall, the son of Uther Pendragon, King of all England. One version says that at a young age he was put under a spell by the magician Merlin so that he grew up not knowing hr was heir to the English throne. He became king at 15 after he pulled the magic sword Excalibur out of a stone. Another version says that he received the sword from the Lady of the Lake, and as he was dying, he ordered the sword to be thrown back into the lake and was caught by a hand that rose from the water.

Tintagel Castle is still visited by people, but Camelot, where King Arthur’s court was, is not identified. Suggested sites include Caerleon in South Wales, Camelford and South Cadbury in Somerset and Winchester. Glastonbury is said to be Avalon (the place where Arthur was taken after death).



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