Medieval Europe: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

This lesson talks about Medieval Europe, also known as the Middle Ages. Find out what life was like during the Middle Ages, a period that lasted about a thousand years from 500 to 1500 CE.

Medieval Europe

Today when we see movies or TV shows about Medieval Europe, there are usually pictures of knights in shining armor and huge castles. Life seems very exciting during this period called the Middle Ages, which lasted from around the year 500 to 1500. But when you really learn about this time, we see that life was hard for most people. Even those huge castles were not always fun places to live.

Remember that long ago, there were no lights, heat, or working bathrooms. The castles were cold, dark, and smelly. There was also danger from fighting and sickness. People in the villages had much less than the nobles and kings and queens in the castles. One name given to these years reflects the hard way of life - the Dark Ages.

Feudalism

Right before the Middle Ages began, the Roman Empire fell. The Roman Empire was a government that controlled most of Europe, but a big, strong new government did not take its place. Instead, there was feudalism, a system that changed the way communities were set up and who was in charge.

There were clear differences between groups of people and what they were allowed to do. The kings divided up land and gave them to the nobility (lords). The lords and kings lived in the castles we talked about. One of these castles, Windsor Castle, is one of the homes for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, even though it was built almost a thousand years ago! The castles were made to protect the people inside with drawbridges and thick walls of stone.

Windsor Castle
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Serfs and peasants made up a different group. They lived outside the castle. Some were farmers, while others had different jobs. They did not have freedom to choose the jobs they wanted or to leave their land. Those choices were up to their lord.

Feudalism was based on a deal, or promise, between the lords and the people they ruled. The lords wanted loyalty, money, soldiers to fight, and a lot of what was grown on the land. The people needed protection. Knights were people who fought for the king or lord.

Drawing of a medieval knight
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Around the 1300s, a terrible plague called the Black Death spread throughout Europe. Many people died, and sometimes whole villages were lost. Feudalism became less important. Kings and queens started to get more power, setting up many of the countries we know today in Europe.

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