Western Europe's Changes and Continuities

In the period 476 C. E. to 1450 C. E, Western Europe changed from feudalism and manorialism to urban centers and cities, and decentralization of government to the formation of centralized government and nations, while the role of the Catholic Church remained the same. In 476 C. E, the Western Roman Empire came to an end when German troops invaded the area. Romulus Augustus, the last Roman Emperor, lost his position, but German leaders had truly been controlling the area for a while before the official date of the Roman Empire’s demise.

The Franks took over what is now France while the Eastern Goths took over the western Balkans, Greece, and Italy. The Saxons conquered areas of southern England. Western Europe was heavily based upon the feudal system during this period in time. The feudal system was at its height after the death of the Carolingian Emperor, Charlemagne, when his successors split up the empire between themselves. Manorialism was also present during this period in time. The lord of a manor had control over the laborers that worked his land in exchange for access to the property.

This system overall gave nobles and upper class clergy power in Western Europe. Government was decentralized since land was divided up between many nobles throughout a region, and areas lacked uniting forces such as one ruler or organized form of government. The Catholic Church was the one unifying factor of Western Europe, and had supreme authority. It offered the people of Western Europe stability in a time of political and social disarray. Feudalism dominated Western Europe around 476 C. E. However, overtime urban centers and cities started to develop in place of the feudal system.

Around the 8th century agricultural development and new technologies started taking place. The emperor of the Carolingian Empire Charlemagne actually thought of the idea to use a three-field crop rotation instead of a two-field crop rotation. This system allowed for a great surplus of food since more crops were planted each year. The horse harness was also widely used in Western Europe during the 8th and 9th centuries, and so was the heavy plow. These advancements contributed to a surplus of food which increased the peasant population.

Since there were an abundance of peasants and many of them were not needed to work the land in manors, they migrated to areas and the populations soared. This was a major turning point in the decline of feudalism and the emergence of urban centers and cities. Viking invasions also led to the development of cities and urban centers. The invaders most of the time brought too much goods along with them and so they sold the excess goods to villages and actually created areas where they could trade.

These areas of trade developed into urban centers where people flocked to because of the great amounts of wealth produced. Overall the increase of trade contributed to the development of cities. Geography also played a key role in the change from feudalism to cities. Rivers were very important since regions along side of them had an easier time exporting and importing goods. Venice was one of the regions that turned into prosperous cities because of their close proximity to the water.

By the 13th century took complete control over the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea and became a main center of trade. This increase of wealth from trade ultimately attracted large sums of people and led to an increase in population, forming a city. Another change that occurred was the decentralization of power to centralization. The stability and security that was created due t increase of trade and accumulation of wealth led to the decrease in the need for a knight’s military service for their lords.

Monarchs were then able to create large armies composed of mercenaries for a low cost. They used these armies to conquer and obtain feudal areas and brought centralized authority to these areas. In France after the 13th century centralized power especially increased. The role of the Catholic Church in Western Europe stayed the same throughout the middle ages. The Catholic Church rose in power during the middle ages because it was the only bit of central authority that Western Europe had during that time period. The Catholic Church even imposed taxes and had its own laws.

Beginning in the 11th century, people of the Christian faith and influenced by the Catholic Church fought to take back their holy land of Jerusalem from the Muslims in the Crusades. This example shows the major influence of the Catholic Church over Western Europe. These people actually fought and killed other people because they believed so strongly in the Catholic faith. Gregory VII was a powerful pope that decided he wanted to be above all feudal lords and kings and proclaimed a decree saying so. King Henry IV did not agree but eventually they came to an agreement.

In 1122, the Concordat of Worms allowed both of them to choose new bishops. This ended up increasing the power of the Pope because he really had the last say about church positions. In 1233, Pope Gregory IX set up an inquisition to end beliefs that they felt were wrong in a religious sect of southern France. Over the next 100 years the religious sect was ultimately terminated. This shows the strong power that the Catholic Church had even 200 years after the beginning of the crusades. Towards the end of the Middle Ages in Western Europe around 1450 C.

E, centralized government was emerging, cities were developing, and the Catholic Church still had a strong role in the region as they had for centuries. The basis of life in Western Europe slowly changed from a feudalistic society to centralized regions spurred on by exploding urban centers. Although the power of the Catholic Church remained constant throughout the Middle Ages, the power of Western Europe’s monarchies have also been slowly on the rise uniting areas in Western Europe into some of the nations that still exist today.