Greatest Medieval Kings and their Accomplishments
The medieval period, spanning roughly from the 5th to the 15th century, was characterized by political, social, and economic structures shaped by feudalism, chivalry, and the dominance of the Catholic Church. In this diverse and complex era, several kings emerged as notable figures, leaving lasting impacts on their kingdoms and the course of medieval history.
While it is challenging to rank them definitively, as circumstances varied greatly across regions and time periods, we can explore some of the greatest medieval kings and their accomplishments.
Charlemagne (Charles the Great) (768–814) – Carolingian Empire
Charlemagne is renowned for his efforts to revive learning and culture, often referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance. He supported education, leading to a revival of classical studies and the preservation of ancient texts.
Charlemagne’s coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in 800 by Pope Leo III marked a significant event, symbolizing the unification of Western Christendom under a single ruler.
In what came to be known as the Carolingian Renaissance, Charlemagne introduced administrative reforms, including the establishment of the Carolingian Empire, which contributed to the development of feudalism and influenced later medieval political structures.
William the Conqueror (William I of England) (1066–1087) – Norman Conquest
William’s victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 marked the beginning of the Norman Conquest of England. This event reshaped English society, introducing Norman influences in language, culture, and governance.
William the Conqueror is credited with commissioning the Domesday Book in 1086, a comprehensive survey of landholdings and resources in England. It provided valuable insights into medieval society and administration.
This English king played a key role in solidifying the feudal system in England, redistributing land to Norman nobles and establishing a centralized monarchy.
Richard the Lionheart (Richard I of England) (1189–1199) – Angevin Empire
Coming in third on our list of greatest medieval kings is Richard the Lionheart. Richard, along with his father Henry II, expanded the Angevin Empire, which included territories in England, France, and the Holy Land. Despite his limited time in England, his military achievements had a lasting impact.
Also, Richard became a central figure in the Third Crusade, earning the epithet “Lionheart” for his martial prowess. While the Crusade did not achieve all its objectives, Richard’s military reputation endured.
Participating in the Siege of Acre, Richard the Lionheart reclaimed the city for the crusaders. Although Jerusalem remained elusive, the Treaty of Jaffa, signed with Saladin in September 1192, secured safe Christian access to Jerusalem and control over significant territory between Jaffa and Tyre. Despite not capturing Jerusalem, the crusade achieved strategic gains in the region.
Although not implemented during his reign, Richard introduced a legal code for England, known as the Assize of Arms, which regulated the ownership of weapons and armor.
Edward I (1272–1307) – Plantagenet Dynasty
Edward I of England is credited with legal reforms, including the issuance of the Statute of Westminster in 1275, which clarified and codified English law. His reign saw advancements in legal principles and administrative efficiency.
Edward’s military campaigns, particularly the conquest of Wales, extended English control over territories and solidified his reputation as a formidable ruler.
Known also as Longshanks, Edward I summoned what is considered the Model Parliament in 1295, which included representatives from different classes. This assembly laid the groundwork for the development of the English Parliament.
Alfred the Great (871–899) – Anglo-Saxon England
Alfred the Great successfully defended Wessex against Viking invasions, earning him the epithet “the Great.” His military strategies and fortifications helped protect England from Norse conquest.
Also, Alfred promoted education and scholarship, translating important texts into English. He established a court school and supported the spread of learning throughout his kingdom.
Alfred implemented a legal code emphasizing equity and justice, contributing to the development of English common law.
Louis IX (Saint Louis) (1226–1270) – Capetian Dynasty
Louis IX of France was known for his strong religious convictions, earning him the designation of Saint Louis. He participated in two Crusades (the Seventh and Eight Crusades), demonstrating his commitment to defending Christendom.
In the Seventh Crusade, he faced difficulties in Egypt, with the Ayyubid Sultanate’s familiarity with the terrain and challenging weather conditions. In 1250, Louis suffered a significant setback, losing the Battle of Al Mansurah and being captured by the Egyptians during a campaign that proved challenging for the crusaders.
After his release, he went on to spend four years in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He used his wealth to rebuild damaged crusader states and engaged in diplomatic missions with Islamic representatives. He returned to France in 1254.
Aside from his exploits in the Crusades, this French monarch implemented legal reforms, including the establishment of a more centralized and efficient judicial system. He prioritized justice and fairness in governance.
Louis IX supported the arts and commissioned the construction of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
On March 24, 1267, Louis IX and his three sons took the cross for the Eighth Crusade. Arriving at Carthage on July 17, 1270, the crusade faced a myriad of problems, especially diseases. The French king ultimately succumbed to dysentery on August 25, 1270.
Despite his piety, Louis, the only French king canonized, defied the notion of a successful medieval king solely through military triumphs, emphasizing Christian virtues in his reign.
Frederick II (1212–1250) – Hohenstaufen Dynasty
Frederick II was a Holy Roman Emperor known for his administrative skills and cultural patronage. He was a patron of the arts, contributing to the development of Sicilian literature and culture.
Frederick court in Sicily became a center of learning and intellectual exchange. He sponsored translations of classical works and encouraged scientific inquiry.
Frederick II implemented administrative reforms and employed diplomatic strategies to maintain control over his diverse and complex territories.
Otto the Great (936–973) – Ottonian Dynasty
Otto the Great was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 962. His reign marked a significant phase in the revival of the Holy Roman Empire, strengthening ties between Germany and Italy.
Otto defended the papacy against political threats and supported the Church. His intervention in Italy and close ties with the papacy contributed to the idea of a Holy Roman Empire.
Otto extended the eastern borders of the Holy Roman Empire through successful military campaigns against Slavic tribes, solidifying German influence in Eastern Europe.
Did you know…?
- During the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart was the first European noble to take the cross, vowing to recover Jerusalem from Saladin. However, his coronation as King of England delayed his crusade until July 1190. Setting out with Philip Augustus, their joint crusade garnered admiration in both England and France.
- Louis IX of France, the only French monarch to be canonized, was declared a saint by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297. Revered as the ideal Christian monarch, his canonization reflects his deep religious devotion and contributions to justice and governance.
- After returning to France in 1254, Louis IX of France maintained contact with Mongol Khans, including Güyük Khan, during the late 1240s and 1250s. The khan is best known for being the grandson of Mongol warlord Genghis Khan.