Power, handled correctly, brings prosperity, while power, handled carelessly, brings despair. So how could 2 countries handle power so differently, yet become such equals in the modern world? In order to find this answer we must look at the origins of French and English government.
The French monarchy began as a strip of present-day north central France. The process of establishing a stable monarchy began when Hugh Capet, the Count of Paris, was elected King by a group of feudal lords. The Capetian dynasty made the French crown hereditary, as well as seizing feudal lands to centralize power under the king. These actions were the first true departure from feudalism in France. As the French continued to add to their lands, French monarchs set up an efficient royal bureaucracy. A bureaucracy is a group of officials who govern through departments. This division by departments allowed for more control of each aspect of governing the French. Since all bureaucrats answered to the kings, the king s power and control increased. The French developed a royal court to act as a fairer alternative to the medieval trial by ordeal. The French did not believe in the practice of common law, therefore, the French king, who resided over the royal court, was regarded as a symbol of justice, thus increasing his power and control. Under this royal law, it was expected that all royal officials recognize and abide by all local customs, unless those customs interfered with royal justice. The tactics of previous king s greatly increased loyalty to the king. This loyalty was necessary when Philip I came in conflict with the church. Philip wanted to have the power to tax the clergy and appoint bishops. This conflict with the church was a very large step in separating from the feudalist power of the church. People were turning to a monarch rather than the church as a source of power, and in many conflicts between them, the monarch had popular rule. The church, in turn, lost all of its political involvement as nations began to establish themselves as secular, To show the church that he had the support of the people of France, Philip created the +tats Generale , or Estates General in English. The Estates General consisted of three assemblies; the clergy, the nobility, and the bourgeoisie, or common people. These assemblies were to act as a type of suggestion box for the king. The Estates General did not have the power over taxation, as did the English Parliament. Instead, the royal bureaucracy gained power, and in turn the king s power increased. These steps lead to the mighty France of today.
England was never a feudal state, therefore establishing a central English monarchy was much easier than what was endured by the French. Anglo-Saxon monarch loosely ruled England for quite some time until William, the duke of Normandy, conquered England. William began to drastically reform the Anglo-Saxon monarchy by first dividing the Anglo-Saxon lands among Norman barons who helped his conquest. William, in turn, made the barons swear allegiance to him as the sole ruler of England. He then in turn proclaimed that every English person, regardless of class, owed loyalty to only the King of England. He also flaunted the Norman power by ordering his barons to construct Norman castles on the Anglo-Saxon land, however he forbade the construction of any more castles on those fiefs absent his permission. To increase his power over the English, William sent out officials to gather accurate records of all property in England, which was recorded in the Domesday Book. William s son, Henry I, increased the royal power by replacing inherited royal position with paid royal officials. This reform improved the efficiency of the English monarchy, as paid officials were more likely to pledge loyalty to the king. Henry also allowed vassals to submit payments in lieu of military service. He also organized a central treasury, called the exchequer, which kept accurate tax records, therefore increasing the king s power. Henry s grandson, Henry II further strengthened the royal government. He expanded upon English courts by extending them to the local, or circuit, level, which consisted of court-appointed juries. In this court, no witness testified, nor was evidence presented, decisions were based on rumors and common knowledge. There were 2 types of English juries, the grad jury, which decided what cases would come to trial, and the trial jury, which issued verdicts on cases. English monarch believed in the practice of common law, or accepted legal principle, which applied equally to all English people. The royal courts increased the king s power as well as the national treasury, as all fines and fees were collected by it. Although, for the most part, royal expansion was welcomed, it didn t go unopposed. Henry II came in conflict with the church when he attempted to gain control of the Church courts. Henry had appointed a friend as archbishop of Canterbury who opposed his reforms, therefore the two men were at arms with one another. Henry had his friend, Thomas Becket, assassinated by 4 of the king s knights. Much like his father, King John incurred opposition from the Church and the barons. So much conflict with the church had conspired, that Pop Innocent III excommunicated King John. For forgiveness, King John agreed to make England a papal fief and to pay an annual fee to Rome. In the meantime, John was also levying taxes to fund wars in France. The problem occurred when John lost French territory that the English had held since 1066. The barons resented this loss and were outraged by the taxation. They forced King John to sign a charter, which clearly defined their rights, known as the Magna Carta, or Great Charter. Further along, the Magna Carta was interpreted to extend the rights of nobles, defined in the charter, to all classes. This charter also outlined the Great Council, which is a body of nobles and barons, whose purpose is to approve taxation. The Magna Carta basically made the King a subject of his own laws. The conflicts had yet to cease between the kings and the nobles. The meetings of the Great Council began to include lesser knights and representatives of towns, because both sides recognized the amazing importance of towns. These meetings of the Great Council became know as the Parliament, for the French word parler, meaning, to talk. King Edward I needed more money to fund wars in France, so he called a meeting Parliament, but instead of the usual body of upperclassmen the meeting included knights, bishops, nobles, and townspeople. This meeting was known as the Model Parliament, and was the structure for the Modern English parliament. In this meeting, a general assembly met where the upperclassmen made decision while the lower classmen observed quietly. The 2 groups then met separately. These 2 groups became known as the House of Lords, comprised of nobles and bishops, and the House of Commons, comprised of knights and townspeople. Over time the power of the Parliament increased, therefore decreasing the power of the king, with this England transformed. England was at one time an absolute monarchy, where the king had absolute power over everything. Now England is a limited monarch, where the king shares power with the Parliament.
To compare two, we can first examine how the 2 countries gained power. France gained power by giving equal consideration to all classes and distributing that power so that all classes were involves, while the king remained the absolute. England, on the other hand, gained power by allowing the upper class to participate in the government, however ignoring the involvement of the common people, until the Magna Carta. Next we must examine how they kept their power, and ways they lost any power. France kept their power through involvement. France allowed all classes to take part in the bureaucracy, and allow them to make changes and have their voices heard via the Estates General. However, England didn t begin to include common people in government until the power of the king began to decrease upon conflict with the French, the church, and the nobles. This is seen by the reformation of the Parliament, as well as the need for the Magna Carta. Furthermore, it seems that England wasn t an absolute monarchy for as long as perceived. The Magna Carta allowed the nobles to blackmail the king, since he was now a subject of his own laws. This gave the nobles more power prior to the Parliament, proving that the King John lacked absolute power, rather than the perceived transformation after the reformation of the Parliament. Given the facts, we can see that France handled their power most effectively, as the monarch was at a constant gain (prior to the French Revolution). We can also see that the equal participation practiced by the French allows for power to be handled most effectively. And for the most part, seeing how William the Conqueror was French, the French took part in establishing the English monarchy.
Now to return to the question posed at the beginning; How could 2 countries handle power so differently, yet become such equals in the modern world? We saw that England began to make reforms, which seemed to mimic the equal participation/consideration policy practiced by the French since the beginning. After the establishment of the limited monarchy, the power of English kings (and queens) increased even more. And in time, came to be an equal to France. Yet also through history France and England have become a little more friendlier than they were in their beginnings. All in all, we see that power misused will not go unchallenged, but power properly used will not go un-rewarded.