The two dates most commonly associated with the Middle Ages in England are 1066 and 1485. William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings in 1066 brought the Normans to the throne of England, and was ultimately responsible for shifting the British Isles from the Scandinavian world to one centred on France. 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 undue significance, but both are in a way appropriate. Both relate to England and each centres on a change in the ruling dynasty. Although there are no reliable population figures – the first national census was not until 1801 – medieval England contained more people, was wealthier, and featured more in European politics than Ireland, Scotland or Wales. The politics of England, as of Scotland, centred on the ruler, on his views and entourage, whereas for Ireland and Wales it was the case of the rulers. The character of a reign depended on the personality of the monarch, and this was of great importance for the stability of the country. The personal relationship between the monarch and the great nobles (aristocrats) was crucial to political order.
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