chapter  II
8 Pages

Before the Conquest 2. The Invasion 3. The Great Charter

ByII. FRANCE

Towards the end of the 11th century three-fourths of the kingdom were occupied by a few great fiefs which were really principalities, their dependence on their sovereign being merely nominal. In the north, between the Scheldt and the sea, was the county of Flanders; below this, running along the coast as far as Brittany, was the Duchy of Normandy; still further south, on the other side of Brittany, was the County of Anjou, and beyond it, stretching to the Pyrenees, the Duchy of Guyenne (Aquitaine). The County of Toulouse occupied the plain of Languedoc; the Duchy of Burgundy lay in the basin of the Saône, and marched with the County of Champagne, which was watered by the Marne and the upper Seine. In the midst of these territories, and hemmed in by them, was the royal domain, the Île de France, the region surrounding Paris, which did not at any point touch the sea-coast or reach the external frontiers of the kingdom. Though equal in area to most of the principalities of the great vassals, it was inferior to many of them in point of wealth. The cities of the Midi, and the valley of the Rhone, which were roused to activity by the Mediterranean trade, and the cities of Flanders, which constituted the terminus of the great route that joined the North to Italy, and along which were strung the fairs of Champagne, enjoyed incontestable advantages over the cities of the king’s domain. Laon, Orleans and Senlis were engaged only in local trade, and even in Paris the most important merchants were merely wholesale shippers, who obtained their cargoes in the Norman port of Rouen. Thus, neither its geographical position nor its economic resources gave the Île de France a privileged situation. On the other hand, its position was admirably calculated to assist the monarchical policy. Thanks to its central position it was in touch with the different regions of the country, both with the semi-Germanic Flanders in the North and with Languedoc in the South. Interposed between contrasting nationalities and feudal principalities, it enabled the king to keep in touch with the whole of France, and to embark, at the fitting moment, upon his secular task of unification and centralization.