High Middle Ages (1000-1200)
By 920, the last of the Carolingian rulers had died; Magyars still ranged in the east, Vikings had begun to settle down in the West, and the Fatimids were occupying North Africa up to and including Egypt. In France, feudal nobles chose Hugh Capet as king in 987, since he was the weakest of nobles and not a threat to them. He and his successors had to act within the feudal system, using it to gradually attain more power, land, and prestige. By the late 1000s this process was moving along well enough such that Louis VI (1108-1137) was able to be supreme to other feudal lords in strength as well as title. Louis VII (1137-1180) had to deal with the Angevin Empire, an English-west French state based upon Anjou, Normandy, and England that was ruled by the Plantagenets. England had been conquered by William the Bastard in 1066, after which the top of Anglosaxon society was replaced by Normans. Thus, the Angevin Empire, based upon marriage alliances, was a real threat to French kings, and only in the time of Philip II Augustus (1180- 1223) was the French crown able to overcome their rivals, particularly at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214, when John of England and Otto IV of Germany were defeated. John went home in disgrace to face a baronial revolt forcing him to accept the Magna Carta (1215). France, under St. Louis IX (1226-1270) was the feudal kingdom par excellence. He used the feudal system to be a supreme, powerful, well-organized ruler with a reputation for justice and piety.
Germany of the 930s-1050s was a comparatively strong monarchical state. Feudalism was shunned by the rulers from Otto I (937-973) onwards. After defeating the Magyars at Lechfeld in 955, he went on to rule based on reliance on and cotrol of the Church to get around nobles. He was drawn into Italy by rulership aspirations and Papal conflicts, and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 962. Otto II and Otto III were likewise crowned, appointing Popes, side-stepping nobility, and supporting Church reform. The arrangement led to Papal reform emerging from monasteries, which claimed that the Pope should have strict control of internal church affairs and that no secular ruler should meddle in church policy or appointments. This new tension led to the Papal- German Investiture Controversy during the period of Gregory VII ( 1073- 1084) and Henry IV (1056- 1106). Over the course of the controversy, the Emperor was deposed and the Pope ended up dying a Norman hostage, but by the 1130s it was gradually accepted by European sovereigns that only Popes could nominate high prelates, though kings could approve these appointments if they were strong enough. By 1100, the Papacy had become strong enough, well-organized enough, and prestigious enough, to call for a Crusade. Ever since the accomplishments of Byzantine Emperors from the 960s-1025, the Empire had entered a period of total internal decline. The Seljuk Turks' defeat of Byzantine forces at Manzikert (1071) made this decline an external one as well, and opened up Asia Minor to large-scale Turkic infiltration. The Eastern Church, in Schism from the Catholic west since 1054, seemed in danger, as did pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The First Crusade (1096-99) captured Jerusalem, and Crusader States stretching from Antioch to Ascalon were set up under western feudal nobles. By the 1140s, Muslim leaders had made a comeback, and the Second Crusade (1147) accomplished nothing. Jerusalem was lost to Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi in 1187. The Third Crusade (1189-91) was likewise unsuccessful. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) was diverted by its Venetian and Frankish leaders, and, feuding over unpayed ransom, ended up sacking Constantinople, and setting up Latin sates that lasted until the Byzantine ruler could return in 1261.
The German monarchy had been weakened by its dispute with the Papacy, and only in the rule of Frederick I Barbarossa (1152-1190) was the crown able to make a comeback, under the Hohenstaufen dynasty. Recognizing feudal reality, he was able to make the lords view him as their feudal sovereign, usually exacting their loyalty. He went into Italy to put down the communes and first to aid the cause of the Popes, then to meddle in Papal succession controversies. Italian towns and the Papacy felt hemmed in by him, and thus combined to defeat his forces at Legnano (1176). He died during a successful command of German forces in the Third Crusade (1190). His son was Frederick II (1215- 1250), king of Germany and Sicily by marriage into the Norman house. An extremely cultured man, he earned the opposition of the Papacy and Italian towns for his policies of aggrandizement in Italy, as well as his repeated postponement of a Crusading venture. Eventually, he went east in 1229, but since he was able to acquire Jerusalem by negotiation and not conquest, he was excommunicated by the Pope Innocent IV. For the rest of his reign, he had to fight Papal and Italian town scheming against him. Jerusalem was finally regained for the last time by Muslim Khwarazmshah troops fleeing Mongol invaders in 1244. Around the same years the Spanish Reconquista under Castilian kings had gained two-thirds of the Iberian peninsula, just as anti-clerical and heretical movements were petering out in France.