Let K be a king at the end of dark ages. Let his realm be mainly a big castle and vast cultivable lands, surrounded by other realms and access to ocean. Beyond some of its councilors and subordinates, the inhabitants are illiterate and not educated.

K thinks in human power, and want to maximize it, on long-term (beyond its own lifetime). Each human H can provide power to the realm/humanity, but, depending on its place in society, H will yield more or less power. H may be more efficient as farmer, or merchant, or manager,…

K is philanthropic : his ultimate goal is a global society fully employed to improve technology, science, and art. This goal should be reached by improve gradually the whole society, not by exploiting next generations through slavery to built the canvas for an hypothetical future generation.

K have full ability to change drastically the way his realm works, but is limited by understanding of the inhabitants of its realm, available knowledge & technology, and the neighboring realms (not necessarily prone to war, but not friendly either).

How could K transform the medieval society into a more developed society, where technology and science improvement is the norm ? What errors K could make during the process ?

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, but it sounds more like idea generation than worldbuilding... $\endgroup$
    – Guran
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ Is there a better place to post that question ? $\endgroup$
    – aluriak
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ "No man shall pay more than a tenth of his labor in taxes." $\endgroup$
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 1:19

4 Answers 4


The best thing K could do is allow private ownership of land, and provide clear title to it through the legal system. By that I mean provide a framework so that it's always clear who owns a parcel of land, and make it easily transferable.

Land ownership is actually quite important in a capitalist society. People are more inclined to develop a plot of land if they can expect a return on their investment. Also, when people own land, they can use it as collateral to borrow money. If land is held by the government or a public trust, nobody is going to risk developing it.

For a resource on why this is important, check out the recent documentary film Poverty, Inc. (you can watch it for free on YouTube). For an excellent history of Europe in the middle ages (they were not dark!) check out Rodney Stark's book "How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity", which explains why the industrial revolution happened specifically in Europe and not somewhere else (that is, it explains the conditions which made it possible).


The biggest mistake he can make is being too nice.

The dark ages and early medieval are largely dominated by subsistence farming. People got quite upset when the common land was taken away and enclosed into private lands but this was a key driver of people off the land and into factories and other industries. If he actually wants anything to change then he's going to end up the most unpopular leader in that historical period, people don't like change.

You can force people into primary education, but this takes the children away from the work they were doing which makes people poorer in the short term, again this will be unpopular.

You can industrialise processes, but this will be unpopular because it takes work away from individuals and makes people poorer. (See Luddites)

What this basically comes down to is that to cause progress he has to risk riots, as a general rule, rulers didn't much care for riots, they preferred the quiet life. Progress comes from discomfort, it comes from having problems to solve, it comes from having a need to make things better, and a lot of the progress through that period of history came with some real discomfort.


The church's influence also played a big part of this, being very shut to ideas that challenged the status quo, especially on scientific areas. Even post medieval times this happened Galileo Galilei being perhaps the most prominent example of this; being imprisoned and condemned by the church because his conclusion about the solar system being heliocentric and not centered around Earth conflicted with the church's vision.

While this is one (of probably many) examples I think along with rulers who liked to stay in charge wherever they could and the suppression of the peasants along with the clergy. The aristocracy and clergy amounted roughly 3% of the population but controlled the majority of the wealth. If either of these two is modified the development during the dark ages could be accelerated to serve your purpose to pretty much any degree you wish.

Another important thing to mind is how the catholic church became as powerful in Europe as it was. After the Roman empire fell Europe fractured, especially the western part while the eastern part of the empire (the Byzantine part, now turkey) held. Western Europe was is massive disarray and it wasn't before a French king named Cloves I converted to Catholicism in 508AD. His conquest of the better part of France cemented the alliance between state and church for a very long time to come. Other rulers of Europe would soon follow his suit after this thus making Europe a predominantly catholic continent entirely, with the clergy having major political power. Change this, and the development and course of medieval times are entirely up to you to decide.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You are quite mistaken about the Catholic church. Firstly, the church played a vital part in preserving classical knowledge during the middle ages, and an equally vital role in maintaining a scholarly tradition. All the universities of the Middle ages, from which the scientific revolution of the 1600s preceded, were originally established by priests of the Catholic church. Most of the famous medieval and late medieval natural scientists (Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Adelard, William of Ockham) were priests. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ Also relevant, is that the Catholic church became the ONLY significant world religion with separation of church and state, one of the primary driving factors for the renaissance and Enlightenment. Nowhere else in the world, not even in the orthodox Eastern Christian nations, was religion separated from kingly power so effectively. This was one of the most important factors in the intellectual freedom that developed in Europe. Contrary to what you say, the Catholic church CAUSED European advancement, it did not retard it. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion But the renaissance and the age of enlightenment were well past the middle aged (18th century). But you're addition about them preserving knowledge is right, though they also censored a lot that didn't help their agenda during the middle ages. The separation of church and state only happened after the middle ages had passed. $\endgroup$
    – Hyfnae
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ The Renaissance started around 1350-1450 depending on who you talk to. It forms part of the end boundary of the middle ages along with the Age of Discovery (1492) and the Reformation (1520). The separation of church and state was well established in the later middle ages due to the separate consolidated authority of the popes and kings (specifically the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor). $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 10:59

Some Give and Take

Tax inefficiency - If people aren't growing/harvesting enough crops, tax them until they do. If tools aren't good enough, tax their sales. Reduce tax on volume/speed of crop harvest and reduce tax on good quality tools. Rinse and repeat until productivity and efficiency improves. This will incentivise progress.

Harsher penalties - If people turn to crime to bypass the taxes, throw them in the dungeons - crime should not slow down the rate of progress.

Fund to the artists - The money raised by the increased taxes should be given to the artists and scientists, those who create.


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