Duties & Responsibilities of Kings in the Middle Ages

Written by c. paul martin
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Duties & Responsibilities of Kings in the Middle Ages
Charlemagne formed one of the first kingdoms of the Middle Ages. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

In wake of the fall of the Roman Empire, western Europe entered an era of barbarity and chaos where civilisations were reduced to tribal existence and empires were an impossibility. Out of this instability, kingdoms were formed by men of strong will and desire. While the Roman Empire had ruled its subjects autonomously and without question, the kings of the Middle Ages were subject to social and religious standards which ensured their subjects' continuing loyalty.

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Military Competence

In the Middle Ages, kingdoms and nations were formed by military might, and a king made himself monarch through his ability to rule. Whether a tribal leader or a noble lord, a king had to inspire other men in leadership positions to follow his lead, and this was usually done through prowess on the battlefield. Once a king had forged his kingdom, he was expected to protect it adequately, fighting off invaders and driving off threats whenever necessary. Failure to do either would result in the loss of his subjects' respect.

Wisdom in Administration

All regimes in history have required monetary dues in order to fund their administration, and the kingdoms of the Middle Ages proved no different. One of the most difficult tasks for these kings was collecting taxes, as communication with outer lands was difficult and thus power was usually very decentralised. As a result, it was very tempting for kings to collect taxes whenever and from whomever they could, burdening the urban rich far more than those in outlying lands merely because it was easier to do so. The ability of kings to consistently and fairly collect taxes ensured that their subjects would continue to remain loyal, rather than rebel and revolt due to over-taxation.

Promotion of the Church

People of the Middle Ages posited that their king's right to rule derived from the position given to him by God. Therefore, it was not only the duty of the king to protect his subjects and administer to them fairly as commanded by God, but the king was also responsible for promoting the Church. This meant protecting the Church's assets, himself adhering to Christian beliefs, and providing the Church with proper resources (worship and living spaces). If the king failed to promote the Church, bishops or even the pope could declare that the king had no right to rule, thus releasing his subjects from their Christian obligation to obey him.

Identification of Economic Opportunities

While taxation was the most important method of raising money for his regime, kings also needed to be aware of new economic opportunities to expand their merchants' markets. In this way, kings ensured that money flowed into their kingdom, providing subjects with the resources they needed to pay the king's taxes. In many ways, protecting and acquiring economic resources was even more important for raising money than actually taxing his subjects, for if he was able to make his subjects wealthy, a king need only tax them very lightly in order to raise enough money for his regime.

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