Good sirs! Fetch me my lute, that I may compose a plaint for the hand of – okay, sorry, no more of that. I've been set off by the posters for Revelation, the latest medieval murder mystery paperback by CJ Sansom. The Middle Ages are horribly easy to spoof, as demonstrated by the posters, with their yellowed manuscripts, gleaming jewels and tarnished goblets. Sansom is in good company: fun novels by Bernard Cornwell and Kevin Crossley-Holland, the serious fiction of Sharon Kay Penman, Rosalind Miles, Anya Seton, Hella Haase and Shelley Mydans and the research of historians Alison Weir, Frances Pryor and Dan Jones all counteract the notion that the long centuries between the Norman Conquest and the Reformation are the dull 'Dark Ages', to be lumped together and bundled behind the arras.
In so far as the term "Dark Ages" means anything, it refers to a period from say 700 to 1050. Not the period after the Norman Conquest.
Needless to say even for the limited time I indicate there were very active culturally brilliant civilized lives available in Italy, Spain, and Byzantium.