General Tendencies during the Middle Ages

The period of European history extending from about 500 to 1400–1500 CE is traditionally known as the Middle Ages. The term was first used by 15th-century scholars to designate the period between their own time and the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

General Tendencies during the Middle Ages:-

The political thought of the last hundred and fifty years of the medieval period is to be found in the principles tacitly underlying actual changes in institutions, rather than in the writings of political philosophers. The period was one of transition. The issues of the Middle Ages were ceasing to be of importance, and a new spirit was beginning to appear in intellectual methods.

A critical and historical point of view was gradually destroying the medieval scholastic dogmas and myths; and political theory, for centuries divorced from practice, was about to be brought again into close relation with the facts of political existence.

The most important developments of the period were the decline of feudalism and the rise of national monarchies, the growth of commerce and of cities, and the decline of the papacy and the appearance of church councils. The medieval ideals of world unity and of a church-state were no longer possible.

The political importance of the feudal nobles and of the clergy was diminishing; that of the king and of the common people was increasing, preparing the way for the later controversies between royal and popular authority within the national states, and for keen international rivalries in warfare, commerce, and diplomacy among them.

The internal organization of the new national states showed wide variation. In the fourteenth century the power of the feudal nobles had been considerably extended. By the close of the fifteenth century, much of their power had been destroyed. The Hundred Years, War, the Wars of the Roses, the use of gunpowder, and the rise of national taxation and of standing armies strengthened the royal power at the expense of the great nobles, especially in England, France, and Spain.

In England the effects of feudalism, never firmly established, were gradually obliterated. The privileged classes, joining with the common people against the king, restricted royal power and extended liberty to masses. As early as the thirteenth century, the liberties of the people were guaranteed in Magna Carta, and a representative parliament acted gs a checkup the royal power. In many feudal states of western Europe, tax-granting and legislative bodies representing the three estates the clergy, the landed nobility, and the townsmen grew out of the feudal courts of the great lords.

Most of these medieval states were small and were later absorbed into larger states, and in the process the medieval representative assemblies disappeared. In England alone did the medieval parliament maintain a continuous existence into modern times. England was also the only large state to emerge from the Middle Ages with a unified national law.

In France, where the feudal nobles were especially strong, the king created a strong national government only with the aid of the cities and of the people. The revival of Roman law and of the Justinian doctrine that what the king wills has the force of law helped the French kings to establish a royal despotism. However, the French nobles, while losing their political power, retained their feudal privileges in economic and social affairs until the French Revolution.

The Spanish kingdoms, after centuries of warfare with one another and with the Mohammedan invaders, succeeded at the close of the fifteenth century in finally expelling the Moors and in forming a united kingdom with a centralized government and a strong royal power. Italy and Germany were driven farther apart by the growing national spirit in each, making impossible the unity of the former Holy Roman Empire.

But neither Italy nor Germany was  able to establish a strong national government. The strength of the papacy, of the German nobles, and of the free cities in both Italy and Germany were serious obstacles, and the-situation was further complicated by foreign interference on the part of their more powerful neighbors.

Commerce, given a severe blow by the barbarian invasions, was not entirely destroyed in the Middle Ages and was given a decided stimulus by the Crusades. Water transportation was developed, connections were made with new peoples and with wider areas, and new commodities of trade were introduced.

From the East came spices, incense, perfumery, precious stones, and rich cloths. These were secured from India through the Mohammedan states of western Asia; and since Europe furnished little that the East desired, large quantities of precious metals had to be exported to pay the balance.

From the North came food supplies, such as grain and fish, and raw materials, such as wool, hides, flax, timber, furs, and tin. This trade centered in the cities that grew up around the Baltic and North Seas and that finally formed the compact commercial organization of the Hanseatic League.

As middlemen, carrying on the bulk of the transportation and marketing of the goods of the Orient and of North Europe, arose the commercial cities of Italy especially Venice and Genoa. These maintained several routes to the East, and had both land and water connections with the North.

By the fifteenth century commerce had become diversified, problems of international exchange had arisen, and men had begun to discuss the relation of the supply of gold and silver to national wealth, and the desirability of governmental restrictions upon foreign competition. These theories, upon which the mercantile system was based, were put into definite shape in the sixteenth century. At the very end of the Middle Ages.

in the search for a new route to India and in the ambitions of the new states of western Europe to share in the profitable eastern trade, America was discovered and the way prepared for the important commercial and colonial activities of the sixteenth century. The center of world power was thus shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

With the growth of commerce, old cities again became active and new cities appeared. With interests quite different from those of the agricultural villages. these cities were hostile to the feudal system and showed a natural tendency to strive for local independence and self-government in Germany and Italy, where the central authority was weak, they became independent city-states.

In England, France, and Spain, where strong national unity was achieved, they aided the kings in overthrowing the nobles, but were finally brought under the royal authority. The increased use of money and the rise of a class of wealthy merchants made land no longer the only source of wealth, and struck a powerful blow at the position formerly held by the landed nobility and the clergy in the state.

The accumulation of capital and the extension of commerce also demanded peace, security, and uniformity of law, which the royal power alone could give, besides making possible a system of national taxation which relieved the central government of its dependence upon feudal military service.

The growth of commerce and of cities increased also the influence of the third estate. Wealth brought power to a new class, the merchant princes. Besides, the men of the cities. through the universities established there, secured intellectual training, formerly the monopoly of the church.

Possessed of wealth and knowledge, the burghers forced the nobility and the clergy to recognize them as a factor in the management of public affairs. As the influence of the city spread into the surrounding country, and the results of the economic changes worked themselves out, e peasant laborers in the country also benefited and the slow rise from serfdom to freedom began.

Forms of land tenure were modified, indefinite personal services were changed into definite and limited services, and money payments of rent and wages replaced the earlier feudal arrangements. Peasant revolts in France, England, and Bohemia demanded better coalitions of life and a greater degree of human equality.

The changes that most directly influenced political philosophy occurred in the ecclesiastical system. The long residence of the popes at Avignon under French influence led to the election of a rival pope; and the Great Schism that followed involved political as well as religious issues.

France, the Spanish kingdoms, Scotland, Flanders, and some of the German and Italian principalities supported the French pope. The greater part of Italy and Germany, with Poland, Hungary, Scandinavia, Portugal, and England, favored the Italian pope. In order to retain the support of these states, the rival popes made concessions to them, and the former position of the pope as the universal head of Europe disappeared.

Besides, the extravagant expenditures at Avignon and the added expense of two papal courts increased the burden of papal taxation and led to new devices to raise money, which excited opposition, leading to the adoption of prohibitory legislation in some states and finally to the Protestant Revolt.

Grave discontent began to arise within the church against the papal policy. The religious life of the people suffered, and writers, especially at the University of Paris, suggested methods of ending the Schism and reforming the church. The idea of calling a general church council, used at first as an isolated weapon in special contests with the papacy, view into a strong demand of all Europe which could not be ignored.

Several church councils were assembled, and for fifty years a bitter contest was waged between those that supported the monarchical organization of the church under the papacy and those that supported the representative assembly system of the church council. Although the papal party was finally victorious, the prestige and power of the pope had suffered severely, and his influence in European affairs was seriously diminished.

Henceforth, the popes devoted themselves in the main to Italian affairs, some taking active part in local politics, since the pope remained the temporal sovereign of a little Italian state, others acting as patrons of the Renaissance. They gave no further attention to church reform. however, until the Protestant Revolt forced the matter upon their attention.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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