As I have mentioned before in another context, "medieval" and "the Middle Ages" are loaded terms. As C.S. Lewis puts it in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century: "the very idea of the 'medieval' is a humanistic invention. (According to Lehmann it is in 1469 that the expression media tempestas first occurs.) And what can media imply except that a thousand years of theology, metaphysics, jurisprudence, courtesy, poetry, and architecture are to be regarded as a mere gap, or chasm, or entre-acte? Such a preposterous conception can be accepted only if you swallow the whole creed of humanism at the same time." (p.20)
Unfortunately it seems as though that creed really has been swallowed whole. The Middle Ages are now synonymous with obscurantism, cruelty and myopia. One of the Oxford English Dictionary's definitions of 'medieval' (which, incidentally, is first recorded as late as 1817) is: "
'The Middle Ages', in other words, is not a neutral description. It is not a mere description of an era. It is a convenient term of abuse, a term of abuse often reached for when describing the Church of Rome, which, supposedly, brought the "thicke fogges of ignorance" and, in so doing, "vnciuillized" literature.
I could go through example after example of great learning and great literature from c500 to 1453 but, even if I did so, the words "medieval" and "the Middle Ages" would remain. So we have a choice. Either we attempt to reclaim the Middle Ages from those who would see those wonderful, diverse centuries as "cruel" and "barbarous" - by using sites such as this one in our teaching - or we try to rename them. Or, perhaps, we just point out the ways in which we can be manipulated by the language. Either way we have a huge task in front of us.