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Wars in the Middle Ages – What was going on?


This activity provides an overview of wars in the Middle Ages. It aims to help pupils develop their sense of chronology and to see the ‘big picture’, not just the individual events.

It also provides a rationale for course construction by covering in brief all the events we might want to teach but don’t have time to cover. One way round this is to cover everything in a shallow way – and this is unlikely to work in terms of creating interest among pupils or to them retaining much knowledge. This framework provides an alternative by establishing the big picture which can then provide a launching pad for one or more depth studies. In the context of the New KS3 NC to be used from 2008 it’s worth thinking of the Norman Conquest as a war which can contribute to the theme of conflicts.

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A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser (omitting this support section).

Or, a WORD version of this activity and accompanying Information Cards can be downloaded:

This activity is based on the ’Timeline/Living Graph ’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.


After completing this activity pupils will have been introduced to

  • the major wars in the Middle Ages and who fought them
  • the reasons for the wars
  • the outcomes of these wars

You may also have used the activity to develop ideas about interpretations (see below) and to establish some initial answers to questions about conflicts e.g. why they begin which you can test through a depth study on e.g. the Norman Conquest.

Setting Up

1. Ask pupils which wars are taking place today and why they started – make a quick list for later reference. Now we are going to compare this with the Middle Ages.

2. Create a lifeline on the floor of the room. Use notices on large sheets of paper for maximum legibility.

Mark the vertical axis Success to Failure; the horizontal axis marked in century dates from 1000-1500, as shown below.

Click here to see larger (& clearer) graphic in a new window

3. Distribute the events/information cards to pupils. See below for a possible set of 17 cards. One strategy is to make enough cards for each pair of pupils to have a card.

The cards should be colour coded e.g.

  • Red – Norman Conquest (1 card)
  • Yellow – wars in Britain (4 cards)
  • Blue – Crusades (5 cards)
  • Green – Anglo-French wars (7 cards)

Information Cards

Information cards that are pre-formatted (in WORD) and colour–coded can be downloaded [ click here ]


William of Normandy claimed he had been promised the crown of England. The Normans conquered England after they won the battle of Hastings


The First Crusade. Soldiers from Europe captured Jerusalem from Moslem control.


Henry II built up a huge empire to increase his power and wealth. He was King of England but also ruled half of France, including Normandy.


Henry II invaded Ireland and claimed he was King of Ireland although he only controlled a small part of Ireland.


The great Moslem general, Saladin, beat the Crusader army the battle of Hattin and re-captured Jerusalem.


Richard I (the Lionheart) tried to recapture Jerusalem. He did win battles he was never able to recapture Jerusalem.


English kings had owned land in France since 1066 but in 1204 King John lost it all to the King of France


Edward I, a great soldier, spent 3 years on Crusade but he could not win back Jerusalem either.


Edward I conquered Wales and built great castles to keep control there. Next he invaded Scotland and beat the Scottish army but was never able to take over Scotland completely.


The last Crusader town in the Holy Land was captured by the Moslem army.


Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, did not want Scotland to be ruled by the English. He beat the English army at Bannockburn which ended the chances of England taking over Scotland for a long time.

1346 and 1356

Edward said that he should have inherited the crown of France and tried to conquer France. He won the battles of Crecy and Poitiers and became a great English hero.


French soldiers landed in England and burned towns all along the south coast. They looted and stole whatever they could find. This happened year after year.


Owain Glyndŵr led a rebellion to force the English out of Wales. However they were not strong enough and the rebellion failed.


The Battle of Agincourt. Henry V won a great victory over France and became a great English hero. He believed he had the right to be King of France.


Joan of Arc became the French heroine when she led their army and pushed the English back. When the English caught Joan they burned her as a witch.


The Battle of Castillon was a great French victory over the English who lost all the lands Henry V had won. Only the town of Calais was still held by the English.

The Activity

1. Take each set of cards in sequence and ask pupils to place their card on the correct date on the timeline and where they think it fits on the vertical axis of success/failure.

One issue that may well arise is ‘for whom was it success?’ e.g. are we taking viewpoint of European Crusaders or Moslem defenders or of English kings or Bruce and Glyndŵr. This could lead into a discussion of why we get different interpretations but a decision is needed – which you could leave to the class or take from the point of view of the attackers i.e. the English in Britain or Crusaders.

2. Now you have a complete lifeline charting the successes and failures of 3 wars and a conquest. Explore the following questions in discussion and in writing if you wish.

  • What was the successful conquest?
  • What were the three wars? (use the colour-coded cards to help you)
  • Did English kings conquer the whole of Britain?
  • Did English kings keep their lands in France?
  • Did the Crusaders capture and keep control of Jerusalem?
  • Compare the three lifelines. Which war led to the most lasting changes?

6. Now return to the questions you started with – and compare the reasons for wars today with those in the Middle Ages. What are the similarities and differences? What does this tell us about the Middle Ages? This could also lead into a short exploration of the similarities and differences between the nature of warfare then and now.


This outline has therefore provided the context for exploring a couple of topics in depth – the Norman Conquest and perhaps the Crusades or Edward I’s wars. It is also possible to look briefly at how wars changed i.e. the development of castles, armour and weapons, notably gunpowder. It has also addressed some big questions about wars that can be continued in Y8 and Y9 such as ‘why did wars begin?’ ‘what did wars achieve?’ and you could look at ‘who gained and who suffered from wars?’ - all questions that could be continued through the rest of KS3 and making clear links to today.


  1. To what extent does this activity solve any problems of content coverage within KS3? If it does, can you use this approach elsewhere?
  2. How did tackling this topic through this physical activity affect students’ learning? e.g. was understanding of the patterns of events deeper? Did they have a better-developed sense of, for example, the possibilities for different interpretations?
  3. When and how will you refer back to this session later in your course?
  4. How often have you used this kind of living graph activity before with this class? Does the frequency of use affect its effectiveness and, if so, what effects will this have on your overall course planning?

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Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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This Page




Setting Up

Information Cards

The Activity

Notes & Variations