7.5 The Feudal Monarchs and the Church

During the early Middle Ages, hundreds of feudal nobles ruled over territories of varying size. Feudal nobles had their own courts and armies and collected their own taxes. Most feudal lords acknowledged a king or other overlord, but royal rulers had little power. The Church, too, was a center of power with its own laws, system of justice, and methods of raising money. Both nobles and the Church could at times have as much power as a monarch.

Illustration of a bearded man seated on a throne, being approached by several other men bowing.

This image from an 11th-century Bible shows a king receiving fealty from his nobles.


  • Learn how monarchs gained power over nobles and the Christian Church, and how English kings strengthened their power.
  • Describe how traditions of government evolved under King John and later English monarchs.
  • Explain how strong monarchs unified France.
  • Describe the formation of the Holy Roman Empire and how some emperors struggled with the papacy to control specific religious and secular issues.
  • Analyze how the Church reached the height of its power under Pope Innocent III.

Key Terms

  • William the Conqueror
  • common law
  • King John
  • Magna Carta
  • due process of law
  • habeas corpus
  • Parliament
  • Louis IX
  • Holy Roman Empire
  • Henry IV
  • Gregory VII
  • lay investiture
  • Frederick Barbarossa
  • Pope Innocent III

Feudal Monarchs Begin to Centralize Power

From about 1000 to 1300, sometimes called the High Middle Ages, the balance of power slowly shifted. Feudal monarchs began to exert royal authority over their nobles and the Church. Some feudal monarchs succeeded in centralizing power and built the framework for nation-states such as Britain and France. (A nation-state refers to an independent political unit that has a single government and usually shares a common culture and history.)

Monarchs used various means to centralize power. First, they sought to extend royal law and justice over their kingdoms. To do so, they had to crush the power of rival courts of justice run by feudal nobles and the Church. To provide efficient government and a steady source of income, feudal monarchs set up government bureaucracies that administered justice and taxation. With a larger income, monarchs could afford to support a standing army, rather than rely on the military service of their nobles.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments