Examination of the striving to name, sort into time periods, determine the cultural and other progressions which took place in the thousand year time span from roughly the fifth century to roughly the sixteenth century has come to arbitrary parameters for what is called a list of names from medieval times, Medieval Times to Middle Ages, split into three sections Dark Ages, Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages. It is far more important and interesting to examine the events that took place during those years all of which cannot be covered in one document shorter than War and Peace.
Examining the Middle Ages in Britain, Scotland and Wales (of which the United Kingdom is now comprised) is enough material to digest and enjoy at one sitting. Various Germanic tribes migrated or invaded depending on your point of view, settling inside the parameters of the Western Empire. For the next three hundred years the primitive culture of Western Europe did not undergo much development while the elaborately designed culture of the Roman Empire was never forgotten.
Any tendency toward political unity was discouraged by the Feudal system and the fact that each village was ruled by authority figures who were recognized only at the local level. It is posited that the money economy continued but there was simply not much interaction between the individual local governments. Peasants as farmers were bound to the land for sustenance. They settled in to the system of dependency on the ruling classes, various landowners and nobles who provided protection during times of attack. They were able to retreat to the relative safety of the bailey at the local castle and were afforded protection by the knights whose protective services were actually meant to guard the nobility. Since the peasant class provided servants to staff the castle and farmers to provide food it was advantageous to the lords to protect their lives during times of war. The conditions of the times made protection by the lords the most attractive solution to danger for the farmers. A symbiotic relationship gave more advantage to the kings of course, but benefiting by the strength and protection of the king's knights was definitely an advantage to the farmers as well.
In England for example King Alfred ordered every man to give his allegiance to a lord for mutual benefit. In turn the lord collected taxes in some form and turned them over to his king. Life was difficult for the peasants during the Middle Ages but society had improved for them to the extent that bonded servants who in antiquity worked without pay or freedom were now free men. When society emerged from the Middle Ages the lower class was somewhat elevated in that they had acquired some franchises and rights to the land they farmed. The custom of bonded servitude had ended and the peasants had some rights.
Two terms are of great importance in the elevation of the peasants from dependence on the lords and kings to some degree of real independence and control over their own existence. Those crucially integral components are market economy and labor for pay. The situation was created by the Black Death that infected Europe when a ship from Asia landed in the Italian port of Messina. The passengers from Asia were dead, the rats weren't. As the rats escaped the ship they carried infected fleas through Europe reaching England in 1348 and running rampant there through 1350. It left one and a half million people dead.
The resultant labor shortage allowed farmers to negotiate for higher wages. They were already allowed to sell their excess produce to whoever would pay the highest price. Seignorialism had filled its purpose by gathering peasant and bonded servant into the same camp. With the gradually decreasing localization with an individual governing each castle and surrounds, the day was near when the peasant would partake of the results of his own labor over the course of a thousand years of complete domination by the lords and kings.
Wages for the farmers were not the only ones that rose. After the Black Death and the ensuing Bubonic Plague thinned out the body of available workers all wages increased. This was coupled with inflationary prices for about thirty years. By the 1360's industrial workers had regained the wage level of the 1320's. A dramatic fluctuation in prices occurred in the late fourteenth century, but it was a deflation. Fortunately for the skilled craftsmen and laborers, while prices deflated wages sustained at the same level and speaking in economic terms, real wages rose substantially.
Theoretically the wage stability was significantly influenced by the Statute of Laborers and related legislation which tried to set wages at the unusually low amounts that were in effect before the Black Death. With legislation enacted in England the wage fluctuations remained similar to those in countries that had no such law. If legislative intervention was not responsible for the rise in actual wages with inflation figured in, what was. Economic experts attribute it to late medieval inflation as compared to money values which equalled out over demographic areas over time.
Whatever the reason or reasons for lessening the financial gap between the peasant and the king it greatly improved the quality of life for the farmers and workers.
The landlords attempted to keep them down with high rents and low wages but in 1381 they joined forces in protest. King Richard II. agreed to their demands to placate them. After the situation calmed down he reneged and executed many of the protestors. But in spite of kings, change continued and serfdom ended by the 1500's.
Adding to the complexities of the conflict between haves and have nots was the Hundred Years' War which lasted from 1337 to 1453. It was started by Edward III. and his claim to the throne in France. The war was fought mainly on French soil and had little lasting effect on England. It did however, herald in the end of chivalry and knighthood and introduced English archers whose arrows were penetrating enough to pierce armor. Although England lost the war to France it had little effect on the people of England except for the declining popularity of knighthood. By the time the war ended guns and cannons had become the weapons of choice.
And thus, the economics of the times continued to encourage the development of a middle class.