One of the topics that I had always felt was overlooked when teaching the Middle Ages was conveying the power struggles that occurred between popes and kings. I’ve yet to find a textbook that addresses the topic well. Even when they do present information about specific popes or kings they don’t present the context you would need to analyze this nuanced relationship.
That’s why I decided I would write my own. I created a lesson where students would examine several specific historical case studies. You could use these resources in many ways but what I asked students to do was to work in groups to analyze a single case study and then compare their findings with other students to see the broader picture. The documents are posted below:
Case Study Documents:
- Case Study #1: Pope Leo III & King Charlemagne
- Case Study #2: Pope Gregory VII & King Henry IV
- Case Study #3: Thomas Beckett & King Henry II
- Case Study #4: Pope John XII & King Otto the Great
- Case Study #5: Pope Boniface VIII & King Philip IV
- Class Handout: Popes vs. Kings
My lesson plan required the students to work in groups to analyze the material. Students worked in groups of five to read one of the documents and then complete three tasks. First they had to summarize the events of their case study. Then they had to describe the specific kind of power wielded by the pope in their case study as well as the kind of power exercised by the king.
I had each group record their answers in a Google Doc which was shared with the entire class. That allowed everyone in the class to have access to the answers from each group. Each group recorded their answers in a separate section of the document. An example of the document is depicted on the right.
The final step then was to reorganize the class so that each new group contained one person who had analyzed each case study. The students briefly shared the events of their case study and their findings regarding the types of power that popes and kings held. They then tried to reach a consensus in their group about who was more powerful in the Middle Ages: popes or kings?
I was pleased by the quality of the discussions. I recommend this lesson as a good way to discuss the significance of the Christian church in Middle Ages Europe.
Please feel free to use any of the above resources. I would love to hear any ideas or feedback you have. Enjoy!