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High Medieval Europe in a
A REALLY Big Nutshell
Carolingian Demise
a. Fell apart under attack and subdivision
(no primogeniture)
b. Legacy
i. Aristocratic families take over
administrative units
ii. Weak France – many nobles; little royal
iii. Government style lives on in England and
a. Largest land area of Carolingian
b. Most heavily disrupted by upheavals
c. First to produce the classic
feudal/manorial “systems”
a. Both too simplistic - are good models for
intro to subject (like bogus atomic models in
b. Describe the defensive reaction of society to
the threats (Arabs, Hungarians and Vikings)
and opportunities (grabbing land and being
own lord) of the 9th-10th centuries
Feudalism/Manorialism (cont)
c. Feudalism - sets of relationships between
individuals for the distribution of land
(wealth) in exchange for obligation of service
Lord gives land (fief) to a lesser lord (vassal) in return
for his service as a soldier. Vassal could subdivide
land with the same arrangement. The king was the
highest lord; knights generally the lowest.
Spread-out military presence in the country (no
central army) - quicker reactions to threats
Feudalism/Manorialism (cont)
d. Manorialism - sets of relationships between
individuals for protection in exchange for
Lord’s fief (see above) had one or more manors
(small agricultural communities) worked by
peasants or serfs (bound to land but not slaves)
for lord’s protection
ii. Self-supporting communities throughout
countryside to support dispersed military created
by feudalism
France (cont)
Division of country resulted in Carolingian dynasty
being destroyed
Capetians - Hugh Capet elected by other nobles in
987 to be king
Only ruled as first among equals with other nobles –
created instability
ii. Slowly built up power from base in Ile de France (area
around Paris)
iii. Spent period from 987 to 1328 wrangling with and
overcoming overmighty vassals (especially English king!)
and incorporating their lands into his
France (cont)
Philip of Valois took throne in 1328 (edged out
better claimant Edward III)
ii. Plunged France into Hundred Year’s War (13371453)
iii. Valois kings struggled with legacy of feudalism
iv. End of Hundred Year’s War finally allowed for
regrowth of French state
III. “Germany”
a. Aka Austrasia, Roman Empire, Holy
Roman Empire
b. Inherited the Carolingian tradition and
stuck with it
i. Idea of empire lasted until Napoleon!
ii. Kept up the idea of aristocracy of service
(like the Carolingian comes and missi) –
idea only vaguely matched reality
III. “Germany” (cont)
HRE founded in 917 by Henry I of Saxony
HR Emperors rapidly came into conflict with
Popes over lay investiture (Investiture Struggle);
who controls the wealth (land) and how does an
emperor get to be emperor?
Fighting with popes, idea of empire drew, and
covering their rear drew HRE into Italy; wound
up ruling pieces of it off and on for entire
HRE by 1520
III. “Germany” (cont)
Italian preoccupations, loss of investiture
struggle, and papal interference created
instability and central weakness
Germany continued devolving into increasing
numbers of substates by late 13th c. (process started
with Frederick Barbarossa getting rid of overmighty
vassals c. 1180 – compare with France)
HRE went from being state with Emperor as
representative of universal Christian rule (like
Charlemagne’s idea) to being essentially a German
IV. England
a. Anglo-Saxon monarchy inherited
Carolingian centralized gov’t
b. 1066 – Norman Conquest
William took Carolingian gov’t style and
merged it with “perfect,” clean-slate
ii. Created strong hybrid state with a
tradition of law, not personal arrogation
IV. England (cont)
English/French history and power and kin
relations deeply intermingled – but two very
different states that led to their different
constitutional histories
France – personal power of lords with overlay of
vassalage; highly regionalized
England – power devolved from a king;
centralized and based from written law
IV. England (cont)
Plantagenets - Henry II to Richard II (11541399)
Ruled through period of English gov’t evolution
Henry II (1154-1189) dueled with Pope over
control of Church offices and clergy
iii. John (1199-1216) – forced by barons to sign Magna
Carta – essentially granted power to barons to
control king’s national purse (as opposed to his
personal wealth – negligible)
IV. England (cont)
Magna Carta – important that it allowed for
a structured opposition/check on royal
Barons did rise seriously once more
Simon de Montfort and others rose to totally
undermine Henry III; failed
Until end of medieval English monarchs in 15th c.
barons never united again – gov’t continued to
evolve within a documentary context
IV. England (cont)
g. English territorial expansion matched
gov’t strengthening
i. Wales (1282)
ii. Scotland (1290-1314)
iii. Back to France! (1337) – Hundred Year’s
IV. England (cont)
h. Hundred Year’s War fatally weakened
English medieval state
i. Need for money increases taxes and fees
ii. Need for troops brutalizes English
iii. Lack of attention on England allows for
decay of ruler/ruled relationship
IV. England (cont)
Internal problems and leadership
divisions led to War of Roses – conflict
between two branches of royal family
(Lancaster and York)
Both sides devastated by 1485 –
traditional top aristocracy almost
wiped out
IV. England (cont)
War of Roses results
Old barons essentially gone; new ones in the
wings drawn from:
ii. The gentry (lower level local nobility) schooled
in law and violence
iii. Gentry had learned that knowledge of law and
use of power in Parliament was an effective tool
iv. New kings (Tudors) had to deal with an
established institution firmly embedded in the
life of the nation