The Early Middle Ages

After the decline of Rome in the West, various “barbarian” kingdoms emerged. One of these, the kingdom of the Franks, became dominant in what is now France and Germany. Its first dynasty, that of the Merovingian and, later, the stronger Carolingian Dynasty.

The Franks became the dominant power in western Europe, defending it against incursions by Islamic forces from the Iberian Peninsula. the military leader of the Merovingian Franks, Charles Martel, would build a power base and it was his descendents who would establish the Carolingian dynasty (“Carolingian” derives from the Latin spelling of “Charles”).

The map below illustrates the growth of the Frankish Kingdom and its growth into an empire between the 5th and 9th centuries.

Frankish Empire 481 to 814-en

(Click to Enlarge!) By Sémhur [FAL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The documents below trace some important aspects of the early Middle Ages in Western Europe, including the conversion of the Merovingian king Clovis to Christianity, accounts of Charles Martel defeating the Islamic army at Tours, and the manner in which Charlemagne–the greatest of the Carolingian kings–managed the Frankish state.

The Conversion of Clovis
The Battle of Tours
The General Capitulary of the Missi

British kingdoms c 800

(Click to Enlarge!) British kingdoms c 800 By Sakurambo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Elsewhere in the West, chaos reigned. Britain, abandoned by Rome in 410, was comprised of a number of rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Pope Gregory the Great sent missionaries to Christianize them, hoping that their Kings would convert as had Clovis (and Constantine before him).

By the end of the 9th century CE, the Vikings (raiders and traders from Scandinavia) had targeted Britain. Pagans, Christian writers often used the Vikings as examples of a test sent by God to test the faith of British Christians.

England 878

(Click to Enlarge!) England 878 by Hel-hama (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The documents below give a brief snapshot of the development of Christianity in Britain as well as the effect of the Vikings on the Church. The vast majority of writing that survives from the Anglo-Saxon period of Britain’s history was recorded by the church–secular accounts are rare, as monasteries were often the sole source of literacy and writing.

The Christianization of Europe
St. Edmund is killed by Vikings, becoming a Martyr