A great example of this was when I was studying the English Civil War (17th century). In brief, the Jacobite kings (James, Charles I, and Charles II of England - who were Scottish) were very unpopular with the English. They even accused them of being closet Catholics (this was after the creation of the Anglican church by Henry VIII). A civil war erupted between those who believed in Parliament's absolute authority and those who believed in the monarchy. Unfortunately for Charles II, the Parliamentarians won and he was tried and executed. Remember - this was before the French Revolution were such things became commonplace. One thing that struck me while I was reading the documents from the era (via the Thomason Tracts, an AMAZING collection of pretty much everything printed during this turbulent period) was that God was an ever-present force in these peoples' lives. When Oliver Cromwell would write to the Parliamentarians of his advances into Scotland or Ireland, he saw the hand of God actively helping their cause everywhere. God made it rain very little so the stream would be fordable and his army could advance. God provided a fog that allowed his troops to establish a stronger encampment that enabled them to repel the enemy. Bringing my 21st century biases, though, it was easy to be cynical about the omnipresence of God, but I found it easier to believe that there was sincerity in that due to the history of religion in Europe. And that reason was the start of the Crusades.
Why the crusades? The one thing that had really outlived the western Roman Empire (the eastern still existed as the Byzantine Empire) was the Church. Not the Catholic church, because that didn't exist - this was the precursor to that and the Church was pretty much THE religious institution for Christianity in western Europe (small, outlier groups existed, but the Church was the Microsoft of its day). In 1095, when the Byzantine emperor (Alexis I Komnenos - and yes, I had to look that up) asked Pope Urban II for help in quelling the uprising happening in modern-day Turkey and the Levant, the Pope saw it as an opportunity to expand the influence of the Church and, in his wildest dreams, to even recapture the holiest of cities, Jerusalem (pretty much the only city in the world that is important to 3 major religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). The Pope communicated out through the Church's hierarchy to the parish priests to tell the people of the horrible atrocities being committed by the heathen Muslims in the Holy Land. That these atrocities weren't being committed didn't really matter - the Muslims controlling Jerusalem were actually quite accommodating - it was all just medieval propaganda.
|The Peasants' Crusade meeting|
the Seljuk Turks - and not doing well
To the medieval/middle ages mind, God was omnipresent. Not only was he everywhere, but he took direct action in the world. He wasn't passive, setting up the rules and then letting things happen - if something bad happened to you, it was God letting the Devil do it; good, it was God. God made it rain, made the sun burn your crops, created the insects that plagued your food. In hindsight, it's hard to think that the peasants wouldn't march to war to do God's work - especially when extolled to do so by their priests (who were still their sole conduit to their deity).
|Richard I of England|
So where does this lead us? In the centuries between the Peasants' Crusade and the English Civil War, the belief that God took an active role in daily life was relatively unchanged. And while we may look at events and writings of the middle ages and early modern periods with a skeptical eye, we must always temper that with the understanding of God's role in these peoples' lives. Maybe that's a good attitude to have even when not looking just at the middle ages.