To ensure justice, he even heard cases himself. His enormous personal prestige helped create a strong national feeling among his subjects. By the time of his death in 1270, France was emerging as an efficient centralized monarchy.
Louis's grandson, Philip IV, ruthlessly extended royal power. Always pressed for money, he tried to collect new taxes from the clergy. These efforts led to a clash with Pope Boniface VIII.
Declaring that “God has set popes over kings and kingdoms,” the pope forbade Philip to tax the clergy without papal consent. Philip threatened to arrest any clergy who did not pay. As their quarrel escalated, Philip sent troops to capture Boniface. The pope escaped, but he died soon afterward.
Shortly after, in 1305, a Frenchman was elected pope. Four years later, the pope moved the papal court to Avignon (ah vee NYOHN), just outside the southern border of France. There, French rulers could exercise more control over the Church in their kingdom. The move to Avignon later sparked a crisis in the Church when a rival pope was elected in Rome. The rival popes each claimed to be the true leader of the Church.
The Estates General did not limit the power of the French king. However, it did give townspeople (at right) a voice equal to nobles (center) and clergy (left).
During this struggle with the pope, Philip rallied French support by setting up the Estates General in 1302. This body had representatives from all three estates, or classes of French society: clergy, nobles, and townspeople. Although later French kings consulted the Estates General, it never gained the power of the purse or otherwise served as a balance to royal power.
How did French kings increase royal power?
In the early Middle Ages, Charlemagne had brought much of what is today the nation of Germany under his rule. After his death, these German lands dissolved into a patchwork of separate states ruled by counts and dukes. In time, the dukes of Saxony began to extend their power over neighboring German lands.
In 936, Duke Otto I of Saxony took the title King of Germany. Like other feudal monarchs, he and his successors set out to increase royal power. In doing so, they came into fierce conflict with the Church. The longest and most destructive of these power struggles pitted Otto's successors, who ruled over lands called the Holy Roman Empire, against the pope in Rome.
Like Charlemagne, Otto I worked closely with the Church. He appointed bishops to top government jobs. He also took an army into Italy to help the pope defeat rebellious Roman nobles. In 962, a grateful pope crowned Otto emperor of the German states of Central Europe. Later, Otto's successors took the title Holy Roman emperor—“holy” because they were crowned by the pope, and “Roman” because they saw themselves as heirs to the emperors of ancient Rome.
The Holy Roman Emperor had the potential to be the strongest monarchy in Europe. German emperors claimed authority over much of central and eastern Europe as well as parts of France and Italy. In fact, the real rulers of these lands were the emperor's vassals—hundreds of nobles and Church officials. For German emperors, the challenge was to control their vassals. It was a challenge they never met.
The close ties between Otto and the Church held the seeds of conflict. Holy Roman emperors saw themselves as protectors of Italy and the pope. They repeatedly intervened in Italian affairs and were tempted by the growing rich cities of northern Italy.