The Birth of Parliament: Monarchs vs. the Aristocracy

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  • 0:06 Introduction to…
  • 0:31 Definition of Terms
  • 1:29 Monarchs Challenge the Church
  • 3:59 Monarchs Include the…
  • 4:59 Monarchs Challenge the…
  • 8:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will focus on the rise of monarchies during the Renaissance, highlighting the interactions of these monarchies with the church and the aristocracy.

Introduction to Renaissance Monarchies

With the rise of the Renaissance came the rise of new monarchs to power: royalty who began to grasp absolute rule over their people and their countries. These new rulers created stable governments within their countries while also lessening the power of the church and the old feudal aristocracies. In today's lesson, we will be exploring these monarchs and their rise to power.

The Pope was like a puppet in the hands of these French kings
Philip VI Louis X Charles IV

Definition of Terms

Before we get into the intrigue of the kings and queens, let's review some important vocab words. First, and foremost, we have the word Renaissance. Renaissance literally means rebirth and was a period of cultural revolution in terms of art, education, religion, and politics. During this era, people began throwing out the Medieval ideals of power in exchange for the personal freedoms found in the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome.

Second, we have the term feudalism. Feudalism is a political system in which power is held through land ownership. This system dominated the Medieval era, creating a large noble class, or aristocracy, of landowners. These nobles held direct power over the common class. They were the lords of the day, ruling over their land and its inhabitants with unchallenged authority.

Now that we have our terms down, let's get back to our kings and queens.

Monarchs Challenge the Church

Two things stood as roadblocks for the rise of these new monarchs: the church and the nobles. Both of these groups feared the rise of the monarchs and weren't willing to surrender their power without a fight. However, these monarchs were very crafty, doing three things to gain ultimate power and control.

  1. They directly challenged church authority.
  2. They included the middle class in their rulings and parliaments.
  3. They limited the position and power of the aristocracy.

Let's first begin with the challenge to church authority. When the Medieval idea that the church should be in control of government came in, the new monarchs strongly disagreed. After all, one of the main ideas of the Renaissance was that people should be free to think on their own without constant interference from the church.

Building on this ideology, kings and queens took a more worldly approach to governing, making moves to not only challenge the church but also to separate church and state. This was a new tactic because medieval tradition believed that since the church claimed the right to peoples' souls, they should also rule over the peoples' government. However, with the coming of the Renaissance, the monarchs turned this idea upside down, basically saying to the church, 'Thanks, but we can take it from here!'

Henry VIII was the supreme head of the Church of England
Henry VIII Church Head

One great example of this was the 14th century Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy, in which the church seat was moved to Avignon, France. With this move came the impression that the pope was simply a puppet in the hands of the French kings of the day, some of whom included Philip VI, Louis X, and Charles IV.

This rise of secular power was also being felt in Italy as Machiavelli, one of the best-known Florentine writers, stressed that government rule should be based on the secular and not the religious. This idea is bluntly stated in his early 16th century work, The Prince.

Probably the best example of royalty 'thumbing their noses at the church' was the English Act of Supremacy in the year 1534. This controversial piece of legislation not only limited the church, it completely separated England from the Catholic Church, declaring King Henry VIII (you know, the guy with all the wives) the supreme head of the Church of England.

Monarchs Include the Middle Class

As the power of the church weakened, the monarchies pulled out the next weapon in their arsenal: the growing middle class. During the Renaissance, urban areas began to prosper as trade grew between cities and other countries. This newfound source of income freed the common class from the system of feudalism. Wealth was no longer to be held simply through land ownership but through commerce and trade.

As cities grew, jobs were rapidly created. With these jobs came a brand new group of income earners or, in the monarchs' eyes, a brand new source of tax income! King Henry III of England is one of the first European monarchs to begin regularly taxing his subjects. Oddly enough, although the common class now had to pay taxes, they began to embrace their rulers as symbols of national pride. In short, it seems the freedom from feudalism was well worth the price of the taxes.

Henry III was one of the first European monarchs to regularly tax his people
Henry III

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