Between 987 and 1314 the French monarchy grew in power and prestige until it dominated the machinery of government. France became the first large, unified state in the medieval West.
The Beginnings of the Secular State
In literature, as in science and in social and economic life, Latin continued to be the language of the church and of learned communication everywhere in western Europe. All the churchmen—John of Salisbury, Abelard, Bernard, Aquinas, and the rest—wrote Latin even when corresponding informally with their friends. Children began their schooling by learning it. It was also the language of the law and of politics; all documents were written in Latin. Sermons were delivered in Latin, and church hymns and popular songs were written and sung in it.
The Middle Ages saw considerable achievement in natural science. Modern scholars have revised downward the reputation of the Oxford Franciscan Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294) as a lone, heroic devotee of “true” experimental methods; but they have revised upward such reputations as those of Adelard of Bath (twelfth century), who was a pioneer in the study of Arab science; William of Conches (twelfth century), whose greatly improved cosmology was cited for its particularly elegant clarity; and Robert Grossteste (c. 1175-1253) at Oxford, who clearly did employ experimental methods.
There was throughout the West a growing interest in scientific inquiry that served to unite peoples.
Science had always been international, since ideas cannot be restrained within the borders of a state, but technology—that is, the application of science to practical ends—may for a time be held within the confines of a single nation through legislation or restrictions on immigration.
Thus England, France, and the German states were cautiously setting themselves apart from the ready acceptance of all logic as deriving from churchly authority.
By the late thirteenth century the earlier medieval belief that law is custom and that it cannot be made was fading, and Edward I enacted a great series of systematizing statutes. Edward’s statutes were framed by the experts of the small council, who elaborated and expanded the machinery of government. Each of the statutes was really a large bundle of different enactments.
It is to these years under Henry III that historians turn for the earliest signs of the major contribution of the English Middle Ages to the West—the development of Parliament. The word parliament comes from French and simply means a “talk” or “parley”—a conference of any kind. The word was applied in France to that part of the curia regis which acted as a court of justice.