Monday, October 10, 2011

Rise of Monarchy

In Search of the Republic--10

An earlier post described the disintegration of the Roman empire in the West and its replacement by Germanic kingdoms that failed to preserve the urban and transportation infrastructure developed by Rome. Germanic warrior class assumed responsibility for governing authority in their locality. They developed into a landed nobility of feudal lords and eventually formed the basis for the European aristocratic orders.

The local control enjoyed by various princes and feudal lords eventually began to give way to hereditary monarchies. Some stronger Lords began expanding their political and legal jurisdiction, backed by military force. They hoped to establish their regimes into organized, hereditary monarchies that would last beyond their lifetimes.

The lesser nobles resisted these efforts. Sometimes compromises came through the creation of an elective monarchy. The local princes chose the king and agreed to become his vassals. The great lords in France, for example, elected Hugh Capet as their king. The idea of an elective kingship continued in the later Holy Roman Empire. Such elective monarchs initially exercised little power. Only later they grew into strong hereditary monarchies.

These early kings, however, often met "in court" with his vassals. These assemblies of kings and their vassals became known as estates general in France, diets in the German principalities, cortes in Spain, and Parliaments in England. In some countries, representatives from the emerging commercial towns attended. These assemblies claimed to represent the king's realm as a whole. They enabled the king to strengthen his rule by utilizing the nobility not only as a source of revenue, but also as an instrument for carrying out policy decisions. On the other hand, they also permitted the nobility to limit the scope of the king's authority. By means of conflict between monarchs and these assemblies, the limited or constitutional monarchies emerged.

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