The growth of towns and the money economy also strengthened royal rulers. Townspeople in the middle class often turned to monarchs, rather than nobles, who could ensure peace that was necessary for successful commerce.
During the High Middle Ages, how did the balance of power shift between kings, noblemen, and the Church?
During the early Middle Ages, Angles, Saxons, and Vikings invaded and settled in England. Although feudalism emerged in England, as it did elsewhere in Europe, English monarchs generally kept their kingdoms united.
In 1066, however, the Anglo-Saxon king, Edward, died without an heir. His death triggered a power struggle that changed the course of English history. A council of nobles chose Edward's brother-in-law Harold to rule. But William, Duke of Normandy, in what is present-day France, also claimed the throne. The answer to the rival claims lay on the battlefield.
In France, William raised an army and won the support of the pope. He then sailed across the English Channel to England.
At the Battle of Hastings, William and his Norman knights triumphed over Harold. William the Conqueror, as he was now called, became king of England on Christmas Day 1066.
Once in power, William exerted firm control over his new lands. Like other feudal monarchs, he granted fiefs to the Church and to his Norman lords, or barons, but he also kept a large amount of land for himself. He monitored who built castles and where. He required every vassal to swear first allegiance to him rather than to any other feudal lord.
To learn about his kingdom, William had a complete census of its land and livestock taken in 1086. The result was the (pronounced “doomsday”), which listed every castle, field, and pigpen in England.
As the title suggests, the survey was as thorough and inevitable as doomsday, believed to be God's final day of judgment that no one could escape. Information in the Domesday Book helped William and later English monarchs build an efficient system of tax collection.
Although William's French-speaking Norman nobles dominated England, the country's Anglo-Saxon population survived. Over the next 300 years, there was a gradual blending of Norman French and Anglo-Saxon customs, languages, and traditions.
William's successors strengthened two key areas of government, finance and law. They created the royal exchequer, or treasury, to collect taxes, fees, fines, and other dues. In 1154, an energetic, well-educated king, Henry II, inherited the English throne. He broadened the system of royal justice. As a ruler, he could not simply write new laws but had to follow accepted customs. Henry, however, found ways to expand old customs into laws. He then sent out traveling justices to enforce these royal laws.
The decisions of the royal courts became the basis for common law, or a legal system based on custom and court rulings. Unlike local feudal laws, it was “common,” meaning that it was the same for all the people. In time, people brought their disputes to royal courts rather than to those of nobles or the Church. Since the royal courts charged fees, the exchequer benefited from the growth of royal justice.
William of Normandy, called the Conqueror, ended Anglo-Saxon rule in England.
Under Henry II, England also developed an early jury system. When traveling justices visited an area, local officials collected a jury, or group of men sworn to speak the truth.