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Medieval Royalty

Medieval royalty included family lines that were established in the chaos following the fall of Rome. In some cases, these lines lasted for a thousand years or more in Western Europe. From the establishment of Clovis as the first French king to Henry Tudor uniting the warring Plantagenet lines, the Middle Ages left land and holdings up for the taking.

Medieval Royalty

The Fall of Rome

Alaric I was a Visigoth noble and war chieftain. He served as a commander of Visigoth troops for the Roman army until the death of Emperor Theodosius in 395. When payment from Rome continued to be delayed, Alaric led his forces against Roman strongholds. He united the Visigoths and eventually besieged the city of Rome. In 410 AD, desperate and starving, the Romans threw open the gates and Alaric's forces sacked the ancient city, officially ending the Roman Empire in Western Europe and launching what would become known as the Middle Ages.

Protecting Byzantium

Theodora was Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire and wife of the Emperor Justinian. Theodora came from a humble background and actually worked as an actress when Justinian took notice of her. She was pivotal during the years after the Western Roman Empire fell and was influential in enacting new laws to protect women, massacring rebels who threatened the Emperor, and a convert to a form of Orthodox Christianity.

Unifying France

Seventy years after Rome fell in 481, Clovis defeated the last Roman ruler in Gaul. He united the Germanic tribes, which occupied an area known as France. Territory by territory, he consolidated the Franks under his rule. He converted personally to Catholicism, establishing strong ties with the Roman Catholic Church. It was during this period that the law of Salian Franks became the written code, combining Roman Law, royal edicts, and customary law. Clovis' Salic law would have profound influence for centuries after his rule. The name Clovis evolved to Louis, a popular name among his future successors to the throne.

Unifying Great Britain

In the 800s AD, the British Isles were still troubled by feuding clans, warlords, and chieftains. Alfred the Great, born in 849, helped unite the Anglo-Saxon clans under one banner. He established diplomatic relations among the other English tribes and holdings, issued laws to limit blood feuds, promoted learning, and beat the Danes back several times to avoid foreign occupation. It was Alfred who also promoted the adoption of the English language.

The Norman Invasion

Edward the Confessor was the final Anglo-Saxon King of England. Raised in France, he had many ties to the Normans and, when he ascended the throne, he appointed many Normans to positions of power. His marriage to an Anglo-Saxon family in Wessex strengthened the faith of his people, but Edward's piety prevented children as he insisted on remaining celibate. Edward focused all his efforts on building Westminster Abbey, but when he died weeks after its consecration, the land was ripe for war. Edward had reportedly promised his throne to William of Normandy, but on his deathbed, he named Harold, his brother-in-law, to inherit it.

In 1066, William of Normandy invaded England and defeated Harold of Wessex to claim the throne promised to him by his cousin. While in power, William of Normandy commissioned the Domesday Survey to catalogue the population of England, built the Tower of London, and instituted a rigidly structured feudal government in England, furthering the gulf between the titled Normans and the Anglo-Saxon peasants.

Influential Queens

Royal laws of inheritance favor the male heirs, but many medieval queens made their mark in the history books, none more so than Eleanor of Aquitaine. Born early in the 12th century, Eleanor of Aquitaine inherited a considerable domain and influenced four kings throughout their monarchies until her death in 1204. At the age of fifteen, she married the future King of France, Louis VII. She bore him two daughters and encouraged him to undertake a crusade to the Holy Land.

Just before her thirtieth birthday, her marriage to the King of France was annulled since she had not provided him a son. Eleanor retained her extensive holdings and wealth, later marrying an eighteen-year-old Henry Plantagenet. As a Duke of Normandy, Henry owned considerable portions of French land. Adding Eleanor's holdings to his own vastly increased his personal wealth. Eleanor bore Henry eight children, including future kings of England Richard and John.

Despite a tempestuous marriage, Henry only had Eleanor locked up after she supported open rebellion rather than executing her. On his death, she was released and supported her son's monarchy while he crusaded in the Holy Land. When King John ascended the throne, she handled much of his European negotiations and diplomacy.

When she passed at 82, Eleanor of Aquitaine influenced several generations of Europe, supported courtly love and resurgence of culture and learning.

A Free Scotland

Robert the Bruce helped free Scotland from English rule, a reality coveted by many Scottish. Robert the Bruce unified a country in rebellion for generations and negotiated terms with English monarchs. Robert the Bruce's many-times-removed great-grandson King James VI of Scotland would reunite Scotland and England when he took the English throne as King James I of England in 1603.

Medieval Royalty

From the time of Alaric I and Clovis to Eleanor of Aquitaine and Robert the Bruce, medieval royalty influenced the direction of their nation's politics, religions, art, and culture. Through intermarriage, treaties, and war, the royal families extended their bloodlines and spheres of influence. Although many royal families found their reigns ending in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the royal family of Great Britain has roots that extend deeply into medieval times and the Norman invasion led by William of Normandy.