Charlemagne, Christian Kingdoms, Holy Roman Empire, Divine Right of Kings, Magna Carta and English Parliament

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 12th, 2012

Politics 101

The Divine Right of Kings gave Kings Absolute Earthly Authority

With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire there was chaos.  Anarchy.  It was a free for all when it came to power.  Until, that is, a strong regional king came along.  Who could unite the manors and the nobles.  Usually in the face of a superior enemy.  One of the greatest post-Roman kings was Charlemagne.  King of the Franks (modern day France).  Who united most of Europe.  Then converted to Christianity.  Something that impressed the Pope.  Who did Charlemagne one better.  And anointed him emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Holy Roman Empire had little to do with the old Roman Empire.  It wasn’t even centered on the Mediterranean.  It was up there in the land of the barbarians.  Northern Europe.  In and around modern day France and Germany.  Where many Christian kings ruled many Christian kingdoms.  But the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was the Pope’s choice to rule them all.

The key here is a religious authority anointing someone to make him king.  Not necessarily a new concept.  For Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of Israel.  With the Pope doing it in post-Roman Europe he was bringing back the concept.  The Pope being God’s representative on earth meant that his appointment was God’s appointment.  And hence the divine right of kings.  Which basically gave the king absolute earthly authority.  Who answers to no one but God.  And, of course, the Pope.

The Magna Carta changed History by curtailing Absolute Monarchial Powers

Well that was all well and good but the kings earthly powers came from the nobility.  The landed aristocracy.  Who owned the manors and produced the food.  That gave rise to the cities that produced the other necessities of a kingdom.  Not to mention all the soldiers the king needed to expand his power.  Or maintain his power.  Which the nobility raised from those towns and manors.  And picked up the bill to arm them as well.  So, yes, the king had absolute authority.  But his power came from the nobles.  And the armies they raised could be turned against him just as easily as on his enemies.

And an English king would learn this lesson.  Around 1215.  King John.  When King John became king the English Kingdom extended through much of France.  John then lost these French lands.  And spent a fortune trying to recapture them.  A fortune which, of course, he took from his nobility.  His barons.  His tenants-in-chief.   Who revolted.  Then came to terms.  When King John placed his seal on a list of their demands.  The Magna Carta.  It didn’t change much at the time.  But the days of absolute monarchy were numbered.  At least in England.

The Magna Carta may not have changed much in 1215.  But it changed history.  Soon there was an English Parliament.  And it began to curtail absolute monarchial powers.  Especially on that very testy issue of taxes.  Soon the power of the purse belonged to Parliament.  Not the king.  Which really put a dent in kingly ambitions.

In the English Parliament Government ruled at the Consent of the Governed

William the Conqueror introduced feudalism to England in 1066.  After the Battle of Hastings.  And the Norman Conquest.  Which changed England forever.  Giving rise to the landed aristocracy.  Among other things.  And a strong central government.  The impetus to absolute monarchy.  Only to have his great-great-grandson, King John, introduce the beginning of the end of absolute monarchy.  Against his will, of course.  Which took us to a novel new idea of government.  Embodied in Parliament.  Where government ruled at the consent of the governed.  Which would cause a lot of turmoil in England.  And influence a lot people to come.

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