Famous Medieval People
When looking at famous medieval people there really is a lot of ground to cover. The medieval period is roughly the thousand years between the 5th and 15th centuries and that is a lot of people. I have taken some of the more famous ones here and they include Kings and Queens, Knights, Writers and Religious figures. I guess you could say this is a look at the most famous medieval people because you have probably heard of most of them if not all of them.
A note from Will. You know as I was researching and writing this article I was awestruck by the people. It is quite a remarkable collection of famous people who were made famous for very different reasons. These include exploring, inventing, artistry, combat, leadership, writing and even shooting an apple with a crossbow. This is part of a remarkable history of humanity and the whole medieval period was really something. The really difficult task I had in creating this article and list is trying to figure who to leave out! There were so many remarkable figures.
King Arthur (5th-6th Century?)
There is a lot of debate as to whether King Arthur actually existed. Some evidence says yes. If he truly existed it was believed to be somewhere in the 5th or early 6th century. Some evidence points to him being a soldier while other evidence points to him being a King. The first viable written evidence of his existence showed up in the 9th century in a book called "Historia Brittonum" (History Of The Britons (Historia Brittonum) ) where he was purported to have won 12 military battles. The legend of King Arthur peaked and waned over the centuries and made another strong appearance in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur which was first published in 1485. This book has been reprinted many times over the centuries but a strong and lasting fascination with Arthur took hold with another reprinting of Le Morte d'Arthur in 1816. This was part of a very strong Gothic revival. Since then the legend has firmly taken hold and only grown. Whether or not King Arthur really existed is still up for debate but his legend does live on. He is one of the most famous medieval person ever to have lived (or not!).
He was an Emperor and King who brought most of Western and Central Europe under his reign by a variety of means including military conquest. But he is not famous for just this. He was also a main force in something called the Carolingian Renaissance which changed much of Europe by bringing about a new monetary system, educational reform and a renaissance of the arts including military arts and the art of siege. He is often considered to be the father of what is now modern Europe.
Leif Ericson ( 970-1020?)
He was a Norse adventurer and explorer who is generally creditied as being the first European to discover North america. And this was a full 500 years before Columbus. He was the son of another famous Norse. (Eric the Red).
William the Conqueror (1028-1087)
His Normans were the last foreign force to conquer what is now Great Britain. He was King (William I) He began this conquest with the famous battle of Hastings in 1066 and in subsequent battles mostly to repress revolts and uprisings. His reign and influence had much impact on England. He brought about a lot of reform including adoption and English as the official language and adoptions of church reform. He instituted a wide plan for building castles and fortressess all over England to fortify his military strength and to control revolts and rebellions. The most famous of these buildings is the Tower of London.
An added note by a web visitor
Hi There. I love your site. -- about William the Conqueror. He was a Norman and the Normans, were descendants of Vikings. The Vikings were attacking Paris and areas in "Normandy" constantly. The "French" grew tired of this and made a deal with these invaders. They gave then land in return for the Normans not to attack anymore and to protect the region from new invaders. After many years thru trade and just by nearness to the French, the Normans adopted the French Language. William did not bring English to England, he brought over French! For the next three hundred years anyone who was important in England spoke French.
Eleanor of Aquitane (1122-1204)
She was the mother of Richard the Lionheart and King John. She was also a wealthy and powerful figure in the european High Middle ages. She was also Queen of the Franks through her first Marriage to Louis VII and Queen of the English through her second marriage to Henry II. She was an important figure in the culture of the High Middle Ages and she was instrumental in the defining and changing of values such as chivalry and romance. She also spent 16 years imprisoned for her alleged part in an attempt by her son to overthrow her husband Henry II. She led a remarkable yet tumultous life which included participation in the second crusades.
Richard the Lionheart (1157-1195)
He was the favored son of Eleanor of Aquitane and a central figure in the thrid crusades. He was the Duke and Lord of many various lands such as Normandy and eventually became King of England. The military battles of the third crusades are his largest claim to fame yet he never achieved his goal of recapturing Jerusalem. He is also well known for some other things including the fact that he became to be known as the first King who was also a knight. And he spent much time and resources building fortresses and castles throughout his lands.
William Wallace (Died 1305)
He is the figure now made very famous by the movie Braveheart. He was a Scottish knight and landowner who was a leading figure in the Scottish Wars for Independence. There are three notable occurrences in his life which are remembered. The first of which is that he was eventually captured and executed in a very brutal manner. He is also remembered for his famous victory in the battle of Stirling Bridge at which his forces were vastly outnumbered. And he is also remembered for his loss a year later at the Battle of Falkirk.
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)
He was a poet, writer and philospher of England. Who has not read "The Canterbury Tales" in high school? He is often considered to be the father of English literature and he brought a legitimacy to the English language when literature was considered to be either only in French or Latin.
Johann Gutenberg (1398-1468)
He invented the printing press and the concept of movable type which revolutionized the book making process. Up until his time books were copied by hand. His invention is considered to be among the most important of the modern period. Books became much easier to make and much more affordable. And most importantly this changed the availability and flow of information throughout the world. His inventions quickly spread across the whole known world.
A Note from Will: There is an official Gutenberg Museum in Mainz Germany. I have visited it. It is small but interesting. If I remember correctly they didn't have his original movable type printing press but they did have the second version he made. Wow, now I really wish I took pictures.
William Tell (Early 14th century?)
He is a figure of swiss legend and a folk hero. According to legend he was famous for several different acts the top of which was his ability with the crossbow. He is told to have assassinated a tyrannical Austrian reeve (Gessler) with a difficult crossbow shot through a narrow pass. And of course he is most famous for having being forced to shoot an apple off his own son's head. He was forced to do this at threat of death to both he and his son.
Joan of Arc (1412-1431)
She was captured and executed by burning at the stake at the age of 19. She is also a national heroine in France and has been canonized a saint.
She asserted that she had visions from God directing her to free her homeland from the English. And she started out as a missionary but quickly became a military leader who lead French troops in decisive and aggressive military battles the first of which was the lifting of the siege of Orleans in only 9 days.
Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476)
He was born in Sighi?oara , Transylvania which at the time was part of Hungary. And he is commonly known as yes.... Count Dracula! The legend has changed dramatically over the centuries but it is known that he was a central figure in the resistance of the dominance of the Ottoman Empire. And that he was particularly cruel in the handling of his enemies. He used many forms of torture against them including impalation on spikes. But as far as vampirism goes there isn't any evidence to link Vlad with it other than the creation of the Bram Stoker Dracula book.
Leonardo DaVinci (1452-1519)
He lived during the overlapping time between when the Medieval Period ends and the Renaissance begins. And he is considered to possibly be the archetype of what a Renassance man is and possibly the most diversely skilled human being to have ever lived. He was an architect, designer, inventor, painter, botanist, writer ... well, you name it and he excelled at it. He realistically and symbolically represents humanities transformation from the medieval period into the rebirth or "renaissance".