In the age of feudalism, the kings entered into agreement with the nobility for the provision of arms and ammunition during war with enemies. In return the kings offered them knighthood and tax free lands. The ‘fief’ was a land given to the nobles as tax free for services rendered to the kings. This relationship helped both the parties. This feudal lord–vassal relationship began to decline leading to the emergence of new powerful monarchies during
Decline of Feudalism
Under the feudal system, the medieval kings were at the mercy of their nobles who were prepared to align with the king’s enemies at any time. The kings had no control over the vassal lands, as the nobles had their own sub vassals and army to protect them. This weakened the position and power of the kings. The plague that struck Europe in medieval time weakened the nobility. As thousands of peasants died, the nobility lost their work force and their taxes too. Nobles died in large numbers during the course of Crusades. The decline of feudalism was a decisive factor in enabling the new rising monarchy to assert itself. New warfare techniques such as use of gunpowder also contributed to the changes. T he weakening war strategy of the knights came to the forefront during the Thirty Years War. The English longbow along with gunpowder caused more damage than the mounted knights.
Growing Unpopularity of the Church
During the medieval period, the Church was the dominant institution. It had large tracts of lands under its control. Church establishments such as monasteries, convents and buildings acquired more land, which were exempted from taxes. Further the church imposed tithe, 10% of the total produce, as a tax levied on the people under its jurisdiction. T he Church became wealthier than the state. T hrough its economic and religious power, the Church assumed greater significance than the kings. The Church had its own justice system too. Ecclesiastical courts were set up to punish erring church officials such as the bishops, priests and nuns. The royal courts could not try them. Ecclesiastical courts had more power than the courts of the kings. This further undermined the power of the kings. Excommunication was a powerful punishment exercised by the Pope to humiliate the king in front of his nobles and subjects. Henry IV of Germany was excommunicated by Pope Gregory VII for not respecting his ordinances. The kings could not, therefore, antagonise the church. But the Black Death weakened the position of the church as it could not explain the causes for the Black Death. The authority of Pope came to be increasingly challenged by many of the early dissenters.
Spain as Nation-State
Major parts of Spain were under the control of the Moors, Muslim Saracens, the descendants of the Arab conquerors. There were two important kingdoms: Aragon and Castile. A turning point in the history of Spain was the King Ferdinand of Aragon marrying Queen Isabella of Castile. Together they worked hard to drive away the Moors and unite Spain. T he king and queen took power in their hands (1479) and controlled the nobles by eliminating them from the royal councils. Spain emerged as a nation state. Both Ferdinand and Isabella who jointly ruled Spain were devout Catholics. During the rule of the Moors, the Jews who controlled the economy of Spain enjoyed considerable freedom. Now, the Moors and the Jews were forced to convert to Christianity. The king setup the Spanish Inquisition through which the Jew and Moor converts were kept in strict vigil. Many non-believers were tried, tortured and burnt at the stake. The royal house became more powerful than the church. T he discovery of the sea route to Americas by Columbus and the conquest of Inca and Aztec empires by the Spaniards brought enormous wealth. This made Spain prosperous, and it began to play a leading part in European politics.
England as Nation-State
T here was conflict between two royal houses in England namely the House of York and House of Lancaster for the throne. This led to the War of the Roses. (They wore badges of white rose and red rose respectively, hence the name.) In this civil war, Henry Tudor emerged victorious and he started a new line of monarchy in England. He assumed the title Henry VII and entered into matrimonial alliance with Elizabeth of York family. This made England to emerge as a nation-state. Henry VII decided to remove the threat of the nobles to his rule. The nobles maintained private armies with special insignia called livery and maintenance. On becoming the king, Henry abolished this practice. He took the support of the merchant class and a few minority nobles to pass laws in the parliament. He created a special court in the Star Chamber to put the rebellious nobles on trial. The kingdom collected money as fine from the nobles that increased the royal revenue. The parliament gave the king right to collect taxes too. Henry VII, who ruled between 1485 and 1509, established a firm control over the kingdom. T he king strengthened his ties with Scotland by giving his elder daughter in marriage to the Scottish prince. He maintained matrimonial relationship with the Spain too by making his son marry the princess of Spain.
France as Nation-State
Burgundy, situated to the east of France, was a powerful state. Though nominally vassal to the king of France, it was a turbulent vassal, and the English intrigued with it against France. A good part of western France was for long in English possession. The Valois dynasty, which was ruling France, fought to retain and retrieve the French territories from English control.
T here was what is called the Hundred Years’ War between England and France from early in the fourteenth century to the middle of the f ifteenth century. In this war, the French king Charles VII was helped by Joan of Arc, a young girl who fought courageously and won the battle at Orleans. Joan of Arc was given the title Maid of Orleans. However, she was captured by the English and tried by the court for her claim that she was guided by heavenly voices. She was condemned as a witch and burnt at the stakes in 1430. (In 1920, the Catholic Church conferred sainthood on her.) Louis XI After the death of Joan of Arc, the French continued the Hundred Years’ War and emerged victorious. Having got the English out of his country, Louis XI, son of Charles VII, turned to Burgundy. This troublesome vassal was finally brought under control and Burgundy became part of France in about 1483. France became a strong centralised monarchy. Louis XI strengthened and unified France. For the first time in the history of France, a permanent army was created for the monarch without relying on the support from the nobles. His Royal Council had more lawyers than nobles, thus undermining the influence of the nobles in the royal affairs.