The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
FEUDAL STATES OF EUROPE

THE lack of strong central government had been one cause of that feudalism which fills the political gap between the break-up of Charlemagne's empire and the development of the national European states of modern times. The various kingdoms founded by the German invaders, even including the Frankish Empire and the administrative efforts of Charlemagne, had not proved successful experiments in the political art. Their efforts to combine the last embers of Roman administration with their primitive institutions, imported like green wood from German forests, had resulted in failure -- in a steady decrease in the amount of government and a constant development in the direction of feudalism, which was only partially interrupted by the energy of the first Carolingians. Indeed, the Carolingians were already ruling in large measure by feudal methods. With the disruption of Charlemagne's empire, kings, though still existing in name, had even less power than before. They kept resigning their prerogatives, surrendering Normandy to the invaders, granting immunities from their government here, there, and everywhere, and giving away their private estates in the vain hope of securing followers upon whom they could rely. In the localities political powers and offices had been turned into private property and were exercised chiefly for the sake of personal profit. Any one who wished, waged war, coined money, held a court of justice. But no one fought in his army, accepted his money, or attended his court, except the few whom he could compel to do this.

Lack of central government

But along with such division came the feudal bond, which united men and united territory, though primarily only in a personal and private way. It gradually led, however, to the growth of political units and to new forms of government.

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