Western Europe in the Middle Ages: A Short History

By Joseph R. Strayer | Go to book overview

This was especially true of England and France, which had made great progress in the twelfth century, and which continued to lead all other European states in the thirteenth. A study of these two monarchies will illustrate most of the developments which took place in the whole group of Western kingdoms.

Philip Augustus, as we saw in the last chapter, had completely upset the balance of power that had long existed between the king of France and the great feudal lords. His conquests gave him far more territory than any vassal, and his new administrative system, based on baillis sent out from his court, gave him effective control of the men and resources of his newly acquired provinces. He had built a strong position and had made it secure. From his victory at Bouvines in 1214 to the end of the century no feudal rebellion had the slightest chance of success, and the great vassals learned that they must obey the king.

Philip Augustus had made the French monarchy strong, but he had not made it loved or respected. He had been unscrupulous himself--for example, in attacking the lands of Richard while the latter was crusading--and he had not punished unscrupulous agents. As long as his baillis kept their provinces under control Philip did not inquire too closely into their abuses of power. Philip had encouraged his officials to interfere with ecclesiastical courts, and his own reputation for piety was doubtful. He had been a lukewarm Crusader in Palestine and a neutral during the struggle against the Albigensian heretics. He had repudiated his lawful wife and contracted an illegal marriage; he had opposed the policies of Innocent III in England and in Germany. If the monarchy were to supplant the Church as the object of French loyalty, the kings would have to rival the clergy in moral character as well as in political power.

Philip's son and grandson added moral leadership to the physical predominance which their predecessor had attained. Louis VIII ruled only three years, 1223 to 1226, but he began the work of reforming the court and the administration. Even more important,

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