Historians often divide the whole medieval ages in three distinct periods, the Early Middle Ages, the High Middle Ages and the Late Middle Ages.
The period of early middle ages is considered to begin just after the collapse of Roman Empire from 5th century to 10th century. According to historians, the period around 11th, 12th and 13th century is termed as the High Middle Ages and the Late Middle Ages were started after that which conventionally ended around the 15th century.
Political Circumstances of High Medieval Period
Europe was going through significant political, territorial, cultural and economic expansion during the historical period from 950-1250 A.D. This broad development was not expected during the beginning of 10th century; however, it got imminent by the beginning of 11th century. In 10th century, Europe was under the siege of Magyars who ruled the Southeast, Arab Muslims, who rules the West and South Europe, and Vikings, who were trying to expand from almost all directions.
However, by 1100, European polities became powerful and the individual European monarchs and elites started contemplating about invading and conquering the Middle East. They obviously had strong forces.
The era of Carolingian rulers ended by 920; Magyars were still influential in the east while Vikings had started to settle down in the West. Fatimids were raising their power in North Africa and had control over Egypt. French faced no direct danger until the era of Louis VII (1137-1180), who had to solve the problem of Angevin Empire which was based upon Anjou, Normandy, in English-west French state.
He also had to tackle with England that had been ruled by the Plantagenets. As William the Conqueror gained the throne of England in 1066, Angevin Empire remained the real threat to French kings and Philip II Augustus (1180- 1223) succeeded in defeating Angevin Empire during his reign.
He defeated John of England and Otto IV of Germany. John was forced to face disgrace and a baronial revolt in England which forced him to accept the Magna Carta in 1215. St. Louis IX (1226-1270), led France to be the strongest feudal kingdom of that time. He organized the feudal system for his benefits and became a supreme, powerful and well-organized ruler. He had a strong reputation for piety and justice.
Call For Crusade During the High Middle Ages
Feudalism saw an end in Germany from the times of Otto I (937-973) and onwards. Otto I defeated Magyars and established a kingdom rule based on reliance while his basic means of control was the Church to get around nobles. He got interested in Italy for rulership aspirations while Papal conflicts helped him.
He was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor in 962. After him, Otto II and Otto III enjoyed the support of Popes and easily ignored the members of nobility. They enthusiastically supported Church reforms and helped in strengthening the institutions of Church. All this helped Papal reforms that emerged through monasteries. These reformed gradually established the strict control of Pope over all internal church activities. These reforms also detached all powers of any secular ruler from meddling with church policies or appointments.
While all this emergence of Church superiority faced various oppositions during the Papal-German Investiture Controversy that raised its head during the times of Gregory VII (1073-1084) and Henry IV (1056-1106), Papacy became the strongest force by 1100. As the Papacy was well organized and prestigious, they called for a religious Crusade. On the other hand, the Byzantine Empire was going through the phase of total internal decline.
After the defeat of Byzantine forced at Manzikert by Seljuk Turks’ in 1071, this process of decline got pace. The Eastern Church was separated from the Catholic west since 1054 and it faced a strong danger with the increasing influence of Catholic Church. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem also suffered the influence of Catholic Church as western feudal nobles captured Jerusalem during the First Crusade (1096-99) and stretched their states from Antioch to Ascalon.
Muslim leaders were also gathering and increasing their influence and as a result, the Second Crusade (1147) didn’t bring any significant victory for the Catholic feudal nobles; while they lost Jerusalem to Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi in 1187. The Third Crusade (1189-91) also went unfruitful. During the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), Venetian and Frankish leaders diverted the power and because of their internal tussles, they ended up losing Constantinople, after which, they set Latin states which remained until the reemergence of the Byzantine rulers in 1261.
Tussle for Jerusalem
Because of its disputes with the Papacy, the German monarchy had lost all its strength and it succeeded to gain a chance to make a comeback during the rule of Frederick I Barbarossa (1152-1190). He realized the feudal reality and succeeded in showing himself as the sovereign of feudal lords as he gained their loyalty. He tried to make use of Papal succession controversies in Italy and started meddling with the issues of Papacy. As a result, Italian feuds and Papacy designed his defeat at Legnano in 1176.
Frederick II (1215-1250) became king of Germany and Sicily as he married into the Norman house. He was a highly cultured person and he gained the support of the Papacy and Italian towns through his policies of influence in Italy. He also succeeded in postponing Crusade ventures for a few times. Ultimately, he was sent to east in 1229. He succeeded in acquiring Jerusalem but his ventures were through negotiations and not through war. As a result, he was excommunicated by the Pope Innocent IV.
After that, till his end, he had to fight against Papacy while the Italian town kept scheming and revolting against him. The purpose of Papacy was to control Jerusalem through holy wars or Crusades. However, Muslim leader Khwarazmshah finally succeeded to regain control over Jerusalem for the last time in 1244 as they defeated Mongol invaders.
During the same time, Castilian kings of Spain were engaged in the Spanish Reconquista and they had gained around two-thirds of the Iberian Peninsula. On the other hand, it was at the same time when the Pope faced strong opposition from public in the form of French anti-clerical and heretical movements.