The Merovingians and Carolingians maintained relations of power with their aristocracy through the use of clientele systems and the granting of honores and benefices, including land, a practice which grew out of Late Antiquity. This practice would develop into the system of vassalage and feudalism in the Middle Ages.
Originally, vassalage did not imply the giving or receiving of landholdings which were granted only as a reward for loyalty , but by the eighth century the giving of a landholding was becoming standard. In the 8th-century Frankish empire , Charles Martel was the first to make large scale and systematic use the practice had remained until then sporadic of the remuneration of vassals by the concession of the usufruct of lands a beneficatium or " benefice " in the documents for the lifetime of the vassal, or, sometimes extending to the second or third generation. By the 11th century, the bonds of vassalage and the granting of fiefs had spread throughout much of French society, but it was in no ways universal in France: In its origin, the feudal grant had been seen in terms of a personal bond between lord and vassal, but with time and the transformation of fiefs into hereditary holdings, the nature of the system came to be seen as a form of "politics of land" an expression used by the historian Marc Bloch.
The 11th century in France saw what has been called by historians a "feudal revolution" or "mutation" and a "fragmentation of powers" Bloch that was unlike the development of feudalism in England or Italy or Germany in the same period or later: Power in this period became more personal  and it would take centuries for the state to fully reimpose its control over local justice and fiscal administration by the 15th century, much of the seigneur's legal purview had been given to the bailliages , leaving them only affairs concerning seigneurial dues and duties, and small affairs of local justice.
This "fragmentation of powers" was not however systematic throughout France, and in certain counties such as Flanders, Normandy, Anjou, Toulouse , counts were able to maintain control of their lands into the 12th century or later. In response to this, the idea of a " liege lord " was developed where the obligations to one lord are regarded as superior in the 12th century. Peerage was attached to a specific territorial jurisdiction, either an episcopal see for episcopal peerages or a fief for secular.
These twelve peerages are known as the ancient peerage or pairie ancienne , and the number twelve is sometimes said to have been chosen to mirror the 12 paladins of Charlemagne in the Chanson de geste see below. So popular was this notion, that for a long time people thought peerage had originated in the reign of Charlemagne, who was considered the model king and shining example for knighthood and nobility.
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The dozen pairs played a role in the royal sacre or consecration , during the liturgy of the coronation of the king, attested to as early as , symbolically upholding his crown, and each original peer had a specific role, often with an attribute. Since the peers were never twelve during the coronation in early periods, due to the fact that most lay peerages were forfeited to or merged in the crown, delegates were chosen by the king, mainly from the princes of the blood. In later periods peers also held up by poles a baldaquin or cloth of honour over the king during much of the ceremony.
In the Duchy of Normandy was absorbed by the French crown, and later in the 13th century two more of the lay peerages were absorbed by the crown Toulouse , Champagne , so in three new peerages were created, the County of Artois , the Duchy of Anjou and the Duchy of Brittany , to compensate for the three peerages that had disappeared. Thus, beginning in the practice started of creating new peerages by letters patent , specifying the fief to which the peerage was attached, and the conditions under which the fief could be transmitted e.
By all apanagists would be peers. The number of lay peerages increased over time from 7 in to 26 in , 21 in , and 24 in France was a very decentralised state during the Middle Ages. The duke of Normandy was overlord of the duke of Brittany. South of the Loire were the principalities of Aquitaine, Toulouse and Barcelona.
Normandy became the strongest power in the north, while Barcelona became the strongest in the south. The rulers of both fiefs eventually became kings, the former by the conquest of England, and the latter by the succession to Aragon.
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French suzerainty over Barcelona was only formally relinquished by Saint Louis in Initially, West Frankish kings were elected by the secular and ecclesiastic magnates, but the regular coronation of the eldest son of the reigning king during his father's lifetime established the principle of male primogeniture, later popularized as the Salic law. The authority of the king was more religious than administrative. The 11th century in France marked the apogee of princely power at the expense of the king when states like Normandy , Flanders or Languedoc enjoyed a local authority comparable to kingdoms in all but name.
The Capetians , as they were descended from the Robertians , were formerly powerful princes themselves who had successfully unseated the weak and unfortunate Carolingian kings. The Carolingian kings had nothing more than a royal title when the Capetian kings added their principality to that title.
The fact that the Capetians both held lands as Prince as well as in the title of King gave them a complicated status. Thus they were involved in the struggle for power within France as princes but they also had a religious authority over Roman Catholicism in France as King. However, and despite the fact that the Capetian kings often treated other princes more as enemies and allies than as subordinates, their royal title was often recognised yet not often respected.
The royal authority was so weak in some remote places that bandits were the effective power. Some of the king's vassals would grow sufficiently powerful that they would become some of the strongest rulers of western Europe. The Normans , the Plantagenets , the Lusignans , the Hautevilles , the Ramnulfids , and the House of Toulouse successfully carved lands outside France for themselves. The most important of these conquests for French history was the Norman Conquest of England by William the Conqueror , following the Battle of Hastings and immortalised in the Bayeux Tapestry , because it linked England to France through Normandy.
Although the Normans were now both vassals of the French kings and their equals as kings of England, their zone of political activity remained centered in France. An important part of the French aristocracy also involved itself in the crusades, and French knights founded and ruled the Crusader states. An example of the legacy left in the Middle East by these nobles is the Krak des Chevaliers ' enlargement by the Counts of Tripoli and Toulouse. The history of the monarchy is how it overcame the powerful barons over ensuing centuries, and established absolute sovereignty over France in the 16th century.
A number of factors contributed to the rise of the French monarchy. The dynasty established by Hugh Capet continued uninterrupted until , and the laws of primogeniture ensured orderly successions of power. Secondly, the successors of Capet came to be recognised as members of an illustrious and ancient royal house and therefore socially superior to their politically and economically superior rivals.
Thirdly, the Capetians had the support of the Church , which favoured a strong central government in France. This alliance with the Church was one of the great enduring legacies of the Capetians. The First Crusade was composed almost entirely of Frankish Princes. As time went on the power of the King was expanded by conquests, seizures and successful feudal political battles.
Vassals and cadets of the King of France made several foreign acquisitions during the Middle Ages:. The kings of France traditionally always sought the advice of their entourage vassals , clerics , etc.
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In addition to the King's Council, the consultative governing of the country also depended on other intermittent and permanent institutions, such as the States General , the Parlements and the Provincial Estates. The Parliament of Paris — as indeed all of the sovereign courts of the realm — was itself born out of the King's Council: The King's Court functioned as an advisory body under the early Capetian kings.
The composition of the King's Council changed constantly over the centuries and according to the needs and desires of the king. Medieval councils frequently excluded:. The feudal aristocracy would maintain great control over the king's council up until the 14th and 15th centuries. Other positions included the Grand Chambrier who managed the Royal Treasury along with the Grand Bouteiller Grand Butler , before being supplanted of these functions by the Chamber of Accounts Chambre des comptes , created by King Philip IV and the position of Surintendant des finances created in Coming from the lesser nobility or the bourgeoisie, these jurists whose positions sometimes gave them or their heirs nobility, as the so-called " noblesse de robe " or chancellor nobles helped in preparing and putting into legal form the king's decisions, and they formed the early elements of a true civil service and royal administration which would — because of their permanence — provide a sense of stability and continuity to the royal council, despite its many reorganizations.
In their attempts at greater efficiency, the kings tried to reduce the number of counsellors or to convoke "reduced councils".
Charles V had a council of 12 members. The Council had only a consultational role: Although jurists frequented praised especially later in the 16th century the advantages of consultative government with the agreement of his counsellors, the king could more easily impose the most severe of his decisions, or he could have his most unpopular decisions blamed on his counsellors , mainstream legal opinion never held that the king was bound by the decisions of his council; the opposite was however put forward by the States General of — The Council's purview concerned all matters pertaining to government and royal administration, both in times of war and of peace.
In his council, the king received ambassadors, signed treaties, appointed administrators and gave them instructions called, from the 12th century on, mandements , elaborated on the laws of the realm called ordonnances. The council also served as a supreme court and rendered royal justice on those matters that the king reserved for himself so-called "justice retenue" or decided to discuss personally.
Council meetings, initially irregular, took on a regular schedule which became daily from the middle of the 15th century. The king was expected to survive on the revenues of the " domaine royal ", or lands that belonged to him directly. In times of need, the taille , an "exceptional" tax could be imposed and collected; this resource was increasingly required during the protracted wars of the 14th—15th centuries and the taille became permanent in , when the right to collect taxes in support of a standing army was granted to Charles VII of France during the Hundred Years' War.
To oversee the Kingdom's revenues and expenditure, the French King first relied solely on the Curia Regis. However, by the midth century, the Crown entrusted its finances to the Knights Templar , who maintained a banking establishment in Paris. The royal Treasury was henceforth organized like a bank and salaries and revenues were transferred between accounts.
Royal accounting officers in the field, who sent revenues to the Temple, were audited by the King's Court, which had special clerks assigned to work at the Temple. These financial specialists came to be called the Curia in Compotis and sat in special sessions of the King's Court for dealing with financial business.
From , accounts were audited twice yearly after Midsummer Day June 24 and Christmas. In time, what was once a simple Exchequer of Receipts developed into a central auditing agency, branched off, and eventually specialized into a full-time court. In , Saint Louis issued a decree ordering all mayors, burghesses, and town councilmen to appear before the King's sovereign auditors of the Exchequer French gens des comptes in Paris to render their final accounts.
The King's Court's general secretariat had members who specialized in finance and accountancy and could receive accounts. Its auditors were responsible for overseeing revenue from Crown estates and checking public spending. It audited the royal household, inspectors, royal commissioners, provosts, baillifs, and seneschals.
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In , the Philip IV definitively removed royal funds from the Temple and placed them in the fortress of the Louvre. In the King had to struggle with a long lasting strike at the University of Paris. The Quartier Latin was strongly hit by these strikes.
The kingdom was vulnerable: Count Raymond VII of Toulouse finally signed the Treaty of Paris in , in which he retained much of his lands for life, but his daughter, married to Count Alfonso of Poitou , produced him no heir and so the County of Toulouse went to the King of France. He landed in at Saint-Malo with a massive force. Henry III's allies in Brittany and Normandy fell down because they did not dare fight their king, who led the counterstrike himself.