The History of Medieval Europe

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

CHAPTER XXVI
THE GROWTH OF ROYAL POWER IN FRANCE

THE France of whose brilliant civilization we have already treated in several chapters was not yet a nation, but a land of ambitious feudal lords and enterprising communes. It was still a congeries of distinct peoples and even its nobles were divided into groups according to locality. By the thirteenth century, however, the royal power began to make great strides. Many districts which formerly had been practically independent feudal states now came under the king's authority. But before a given region passed under royal control, it often had evolved distinct customs and legal usages of its own and also a representative assembly of the estates of that locality. As the king gradually extended his lordship over such feudal areas, he left to each its local customs and often granted numerous charters assuring the ancient privileges of this or that town or abbey or provincial group of nobles. Thus each part of France was governed in a slightly different way from its neighbor and no common law like that of England was created. On the other hand, there was little united action in opposition to the French king, who signed no such general and sweeping concession as Magna Carta. The local charters which he did sign were easier for him after a time to disregard or to take away, since in each case only a certain district or group of persons was concerned to defend the charter. Thus in the end the French monarchy became more arbitrary and absolute than the English. England became a strong nation through its law and Parliament and constitutional government. But in France the king and his court and officials were the chief force uniting the different provinces, lords, and communes, and welding them at last into one people. All those small nationalities of the feudal world were ultimately swallowed

Union of France through the king

-490-

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