Political Developments of the Middle Ages

Political Developments of the Middle Ages
Content Goals and Objectives:
Goal 7 – Political Development in the Holy Roman Empire, England, and France
The student will trace the political developments of the Holy Roman Empire,
England and France in medieval Europe.
7.01 Trace and evaluate the political developments of medieval France and Germany
after the Carolingians to the rise of the Holy Roman Empire including but not
limited to the Saxon duchies, the Franconians, and the Hohenstaufens.
7.02 Assess the causes and effects of the decline of the Holy Roman Empire.
7.03 Map the geopolitical developments in the British Isles from late antiquity to the
Norman Conquest.
7.04 Summarize the causes and effects of the Norman Conquest on the medieval
7.05 Evaluate the reigns of the Anglo-Norman kings of England including William I,
William II, and Henry I.
7.06 Assess the political achievements and developments of the reigns of the Plantagenet
kings including but not limited to Henry II, Richard I, John, and Edward I.
7.07 Judge the influence of the Magna Carta and the English Parliament on later forms of
representative government.
7.08 Trace the events of the Hundred Years’ War and Wars of the Roses.
7.09 Judge the effects of the Hundred Years’ War and Wars of the Roses on later cultural
and political developments in medieval England and France
7.10 Assess the political achievements and developments of the Capetian dynasty in
medieval France.
The Big Three
As the Germanic tribes organized and filled the void that the disintegration of the Roman
Empire created in Europe, three kingdoms arose to dominate the political landscape of
the continent. These kingdoms became the modern-day countries of England, France, and
Germany. They had a huge impact on political and cultural developments of the Middle
Jolly Old England
Prior to the 5th century Germanic invasions, the island of Britain was inhabited by a
mixture of Celtic tribes and Romans which were referred to as Britons. As the 5th century
migrations progressed, the Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes settled on the
island and came to dominate it culturally. These Anglo-Saxons formed several
independent kingdoms across Britain, now called “Angleland.” The Anglo-Saxon
kingdoms were not immune to the 9th century Viking invasions and lost power and lands
to the Vikings until the mid 9th century. It was King Alfred of Great of Wessex who
finally united the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to drive out the Viking invaders. But the united
kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons did not last for long; after the death of King Edward the
Confessor, William the Bastard of Normandy (A region of France) made a claim for the
throne. In 1066, Willam and his Norman army defeated the other rival for the AngloSaxon throne, Harold Godwinsom at the Battle of Hastings. Oddly enough after
conquering England he was forever referred to as William the Conqueror.
Starting with William the Conqueror, the Norman kings of England centralized the power
of the monarchy. In 1068, King William, with the help of his officials, took the first
census of England detailed in the Doomsday Book. In addition, King Henry II (11541189) established the traditional use of common law and jury trials which again helped to
centralize power. But with this centralization of the Norman monarchy, there was a
backlash coming from the nobles of England. In 1215, the Norman nobles forced King
John to sign the Magna Carta or Great Charter which limited royal power. The power of
the monarch was limited again in 1295 when King Edward I created the Model
Parliament made up of people from the clergy, nobility, and merchant class to advise the
king. This Model Parliament gradually developed into the modern English Parliament
with two houses: the House of Lords and Commons. So in conclusion for England, the
centralization of the monarchy was tempered with the power of the nobility.
The French
In France the centralization of the power of the monarchy took much longer probably due
to the entrenchment of the feudal system in France. In 987, the noble Hugh Capet seized
the French throne from a weak Carolingian king. During the 11th and 12th centuries, the
Capetian dynasty consolidated power and strengthened France and the power of the
monarchy. But the feudal system was very well rooted in French soil; it took King Phillip
II (1180-1223) and King Louis IX (1226-1270) to overpower the system by weakening
the power of the feudal lords and making the royal courts dominant over the feudal
courts. Soon though, the triumph of the monarchy over the power of the feudal system
was tempered with the noble assertion of power. This assertion of noble power came
when King Phillip IV (1285-1314) needed to raise taxes and required the support of the
nobility to do so. As a result he created the Estates-General, an assembly of nobles,
clergy, and merchants which checked the power of the monarchy.
The process of centralization also took place in the region of Germany or the Holy
Roman Empire. King Otto (936-973) began the centralization process in earnest while
trying to restore the empire that Charlemagne ruled. Although not completely successful
at restoring the glory of the empire, Otto I did end the harassment of the Magyars at the
Battle of Lechfeld and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope in 962. But the
relationship between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope was not always so pleasant.
Later Holy Roman Emperors came into conflict with papal authority over the policy of
lay investiture. It wasn’t until 1122 that the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor reached a
compromise on the issue at the Concordant of Worms. Thus the centralization of the
monarchy in Germany was tempered with the assertion of papal authority.
The Hundred Years’ War
One of the events that shocked the fabric of medieval culture and devastated continental
Europe was the Hundred Years’ War. This war which lasted over one hundred years from
1337 to 1453 was between the developing nations of France and England. The war began
over feudal disputes over lands in northwestern France and feudal claims that the English
had over the throne of France. For a majority of the war the English dominated the
French defeating them at the major engagements of the Battle of Crecy (1346) and of the
Battle of Agincourt (1415). It wasn’t until a simple seventeen year old peasant girl, Joan
of Arc, emerged on the political and military scene that the French began to turn it
around. Joan believed that she received messages from God to help return the French
king to the throne. By 1429, she had persuaded Charles, the heir to the French throne, to
supply her an army for this task. Joan helped to lift the siege of Orleans and oversaw the
crowning of the king of France, Charles VII, at the traditional site of Reims. Later she
was captured and executed by the English as a witch; but her impact on the war could not
be stopped. The French rallied around Charles and the memory of Joan and pushed the
English forces from France by 1453.
There were some positives that came out of the Hundred Years’ War. The French had
developed of a sense of unity (Not nationalism that is later.). Feudalism again was
adversely affected and continued to decline in its power. But in the long run, it caused
devastation and chaos for continental Europe. Trade and agriculture were hampered by
the hundred years plus of war. That, in turn, effected the growth of medieval culture.
Also England, once defeated, plunged into a civil war called the War of the Roses from
1455 to 1485 which exasperated these economic effects of the war. So the Hundred
Years’ War did not start the Late Middle Ages out on the right foot at all.