By the High Middle Ages, European society was divided into four distinct classes. Politically and religiously, medieval life was controlled from the top; in the hierarchical society of the period, the nobility and the clergy dominated the peasants and townspeople. The Crusades caused fundamental upheavals in European life. Mediterranean commerce and Venices role as a leading regional power grew directly from these wars. Throughout Europe, new cities were born and old ones became important centers of trade and commerce. The emergence of towns with their guilds and their continual quest for commercial activity altered the medieval world. Cities became home to a new social class artisans, merchants, and traders whose position was based on commercial wealth instead of land ownership. This period also saw the rise of the universities. Colleges at Bologna and Paris were, by the thirteenth century, important centers for the spread of knowledge. Over time, as the intellectual pace quickened with each new generation of university-trained scholars, the clash between temporal philosophy and religious theology became more pronounced, and the spiritual unity and dominance of the Church less secure. Women and children remained largely excluded from these and other higher pursuits and aspirations, though women may have had more freedoms and opportunities than earlier scholars imagined and children were probably better loved and protected than traditional sources suggest.
After reading this chapter you should understand:
- The major groups and classes composing medieval society.
- The rise of towns and the new merchant class.
- Founding of universities and expansion of the educational curriculum.
- The lives of women and children in the Middle Ages.