The two dates that are most commonly associated with the Middle Ages in the British Isles are 1066 and 1485. William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings in 1066 brought the Normans to the throne of England. Richard III’s defeat by Henry Tudor at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 is popularly seen to mark the close of the Middle Ages. There are dangers in endowing either of these dates, particularly 1485, with too much significance, but both are in a way appropriate. They both relate to England and they each centre on changes in ruling dynasties. Although there are no reliable figures — the first national census was not until 1801 — medieval England contained more people and was wealthier than Ireland, Scotland or Wales. It was also the most united of the constituent parts of the British Isles and the one that featured most in European politics. The politics of England centred on the ruler, on his views and entourage. The character of his reign depended on the personality of the monarch and this was of great importance for the stability of the country, for the personal relationship between the monarch and the great nobles (aristocrats) was crucial to political order. It is therefore possible to write a history of medieval England that centres on the rulers and is merely an account of their reigns in chronological order.
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