11th Century – 7 Historical Events that happened in the 11th Century

The 11th century saw Viking invasions, conquests in England, and a major shift of power in Europe. Its most distinguishing legacy, however, is that of Europe’s religious struggles, culminating in the Investiture Controversy and the Great Schism. The Popes of the era were notable in rallying the first Crusade, making Emperor’s bow to their doors, and cutting off any who challenged their power. In this article, we will look at 7 key events that took place during the 11th Century.

Norsemen first reach North America (1000/1001)

Leif Erikson arriving in the Americas at the start of the 11th Century.
Leif Eriksson Discovers America by Hans Dahl.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In either 1000 or 1001 AD, Norsemen led by Leif Eriksson sailed west from Greenland and landed in North America: the first time European’s ever reached the continent. They established settlements in an area they named Vinland, encompassing modern-day Newfoundland and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, with the surrounding areas famous for their eponymous grapevines. Leif wintered there before returning back to Greenland with much-needed supplies of timber and grapes. In following years he would be followed west by his brothers, and by Thorfinn Karlsefni around 1010, who attempted to establish settlements before being chased off by natives.

Cnut the Great conquers England (1015-1016)

After several decades of Viking raids in England, an invasion by the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard at the start of the 11th century in 1013 put him on the English throne until he died a matter of months later. The Danelaw wanted Sweyn’s son, Cnut (sometimes spelled Canute) to succeed him, but English nobility re-elected the disposed King Aethelred II. Returning with troops in 1015, Cnut began a campaign to retake England, landing at Wessex and overrunning the defending armies, pushing north. When Aethelred died in 1016, with his grip on the throne weak, he was briefly succeeded by his son Edmund Ironside, but the siege of London in 1016 and the treaty that followed split the country, with Cnut as King of the north and Edmund king of the south. However, a month later Edmund was dead, and Cnut was accepted as king of all England, and he would go on to become king of Denmark, Norway, and parts of Sweden while holding the English crown.

The golden age of Kievan Rus (1019-1054)

Before there was Russia, there was Kievan Rus, which encompassed most of modern-day Eastern Europe. Its golden age corresponded with the reign of Yaroslav I, which began in 1019 after defeating his brother, who in contesting the throne had killed three of their other brothers. Known to posterity as Yaroslav the Wise, he forged wars against the Byzantine Empire, but his true success in establishing his power and the security of his land, was in his matchmaking and politics, marrying various family members to the Kings of Europe, making administrative improvements, and helping codify law and customs for the first time. Achievements in economy, literature, and architecture far surpassed that of many European rivals. The life of Yaroslav marked the zenith of Kievan Rus, and the period following his death began its decline.

The Great East-West schism (1054)

Separated by distance, language, and invading forces, the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church split in halfway through the 11th century in 1054, in the events known today as the Great Schism. Following differences in custom concerning practices and the role of the Pope, the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius, of the Byzantine Empire, was excommunicated by Pope Leo IX after disagreeing that the Roman Pope should have total authority. In retaliation, Constantinople excommunicated the Pope. The split wasn’t considered significant at the time, but it has proven to be in history, with the two churches the biggest denominations in Christianity.

The Norman conquest of England (1066)

Bayeux Tapestry - Scene 57: the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.
The Bayeux Tapestry scene 57 which shows the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Edward the Confessor, generally considered the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, died childless in early 1066, a succession crisis was sparked. He was briefly succeeded by his brother-in-law Harold II, whose first challenge came from the Danes, who had been ousted following the death of Cnut decades earlier. The Battle of Stamford Bridge later that same year resulted in victory for Harold, the death of the Norwegian King, and would be the last Viking invasion of England. Just three days later, however, Duke William of Normandy landed in the south and Harold split his forces, leaving some behind in the north, and marched the rest to meet them. At the Battle of Hastings, William’s force defeated Harold’s, who was killed in the engagement. William was crowned king of England in the aftermath, earning the nickname William the Conqueror, and consolidating his reign in the coming years.

The Humiliation of Canossa (1077)

Following power struggles between Pope Gregory VII and King Henry IV of Germany and Italy, in a period known today as the Investiture Controversy, Henry was excommunicated from the church, and forced to beg for forgiveness. Wanting to avoid rebellion and questions of his authority without the church’s approval, Henry walked to Canossa Castle barefoot, supposedly waiting in prayer outside the gates in a blizzard for three days while fasting, until he was finally permitted to enter and receive absolution. The conflict between Henry and Pope Gregory VII was far from over, but the success of this mission would allow Henry to strengthen his position and be crowned the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1084.

The First Crusade (1096-1099)

Medieval manuscript depiction of the Siege of Jerusalem at the end of the 11th century during the First Crusade.
The Siege of Jerusalem in 1099.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Although Jerusalem had been under Muslim rule for centuries, the religious Crusades were not necessary until the invading Seljuk Empire threatened Christian pilgrims, local Christian populations, and the Byzantine Empire. The Pope and Byzantine Emperor both called for military support and action. Initially, this was answered by the poorer classes, known as the People’s Crusade, who were annihilated by Seljuks in 1096 at the Battle of Civetot. The Christians responded with the more successful Prince’s Crusade, which in 1097 led to the siege of Antioch and capture of the city in 1098, and the following year the capture of Jerusalem and establishment of the four Crusader states. Christian control of the Holy Land would last for almost 100 years.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our other 7 Historical Events that happened in different centuries!

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