From 481 to 751, the Merovingians converted the Arian populations to Christianity with great success, and since conversion implied conquest, France became the greatest power within the Holy Roman Empire.
In 771, after the suspicious death of his brother Carloman I, Charlemagne ousted his two young nephews, legitimate heirs of their father, and took possession of the kingdom. The nephews took refuge in Italy among the Lombards with their mother. Charlemagne pursued them and captured them in Verona where they vanished without a trace, probably having been imprisoned in a convent.
After conquering the Lombards, Charlemagne spent several years subduing the Saxons to the north and conquering the Muslims to the south. Charlemagne became extremely powerful, and before France engulfed the Holy Roman Empire altogether, the Pope reacted. He decided to consecrate Charlemagne emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Rome on December 25 of the year 800. Feeling more important as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire than as king of France, Charlemagne accepted, and without realizing it, restored the authority of Rome over France.
Europe being entirely converted, and the faithful being obliged to pay tithes, it resulted in considerable revenue for the empire. In addition, many of the faithful were willing to pay to have their sins redeemed, and many others bequeathed their property to the Church in order to secure a place in heaven after death. The Holy Roman Empire thus became not only a gigantic financial power, but also a power that tolerated no competition.
In a position of strength, the Bishop of Rome undertook to convert the populations of England, Scotland and Ireland. He chose to send William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, across the Channel in order to make him King of England. But in doing so, the Pope made a major mistake, because when William the Conqueror was crowned King of England, he continued to be Duke of Normandy, and that didn’t bode well for future relations between France and England. When, in 1152, William’s great-grandson, Henri Plantagenet, married Aliénor of Aquitaine, ex-wife of Louis VII, king of France, the kingdom of France and that of England became seriously entangled. In fact, when the third son of Eleanor and Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, became King of England in 1189, he was Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Poitiers, Count of Maine and Earl of Anjou. Fortunately, during his reign, which only lasted from 1189 until his death in 1199, he spent barely a few months in England, and thus, there was no war between France and England during that period. The first war took place in 1202 when Philippe Auguste, king of France, seized the Duchy of Normandy which had been passed down to Jean sans Terre, Richard’s youngest brother. The Hundred Years’ War between French Kings of England and French Kings of France was to officially start in 1337. That’s when Edward III, king of England, and direct descendant of the king of France on his mother’s side, declared himself to be king of France. The battle for the crown of France remained a bloody family affair for over a century.
Nonetheless, when the Pope sent William the Conqueror to England in 1066, Rome’s cruel ways didn’t lessen in other parts of the empire, and the historical period that followed was extremely violent. In 1095, Pope Innocent III launched the first crusade in order to liberate the holy places of Jerusalem from the Muslims who forbade their access to Christians. In 1099 the Franks managed to seize the city of Jerusalem. After two hundred years of rule, the Frank kingdom known as the Kingdom of Jerusalem collapsed in 1291 following the defeat of the Franks in Saint-Jean-D’Acre.
In France, the crusade against the Albigensians began in 1209 with the Béziers sack where the whole population was massacred, and officially ended in 1321 when the last of the Good Men, Guillem Bélibaste, was burned at the stake. But in fact, the last group of Cathars, 510 strong, died in a cave in Lombrives in 1328 after the crusader, Simon de Montfort, walled the entrance to the cave and left them to die. For many centuries, countless infidels, whether Cathars, Muslims or Jews, were tortured, killed and sent to the stake by the Bishop of Rome’s henchmen, and this heretic cleansing lasted long after the death of Joan of Arc in 1404. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII preached an inquisition against witchcraft, an attack directed against women where many were condemned to the stake. Later, this religious barbarism was even adopted by the Protestants, as exemplified by the Salem trials in America in 1692, where dozens of women were hanged for witchcraft.
With regards to the fratricidal wars between England and France, when Edward I of England was crowned king in 1272 following his return from the ninth crusade, he declared he had legitimate rights over France because he held title to all the fiefs of western France, from Flanders to Aquitaine. And Philip IV, known as Philip the Fair, who reigned from 1285 to 1314, didn’t help to pacify things. During his reign, he transferred the Holy See of Rome to Avignon, and because the kings of the Holy Roman Empire were not disposed to submit to the authority of a Pope who answered to the King of France, the transfer was short-lived. However, when he officially declared that Aquitaine belonged to France, that decision was to lead to a fratricidal war that would last more than one hundred years.
Philippe the Fair having died in 1314, in 1337, Edward III of England not only declared that Aquitaine belonged to him, but that he was the legitimate heir to the throne of France on his mother’s side. His mother was Isabelle of France, daughter of Philip the Fair. Not surprisingly, the Plantagenets and the Valois clashed on the battlefield many times over the next hundred years, until Louis XI, king of France, took definite possession of Aquitaine in 1453.
The atrocities committed against the “heretics” by the Bishop of Rome with the help of his absolute kings of divine right over so many centuries, were unspeakable. And they continued after the 100 Years War with Inquisitions against the Jews in the Iberic Peninsula. However, when the Church started to persecute the Protestants within France’s borders, it signed its death warrant. The Protestants, also called Calvinists or Huguenots, were business entrepreneurs with great know-how, and they wanted to make up for lost time following 116 years of senseless war. But because the idea of making a profit went against the Roman Church’s doctrine, the Bishop of Rome decided to apply his well-tried persecution tactics with the help of his French kings.
The French Protestants would become the Church’s mortal enemy, and would eventually join forces with the Jews in Amsterdam. The two persecuted groups would go on to create the East India Company in 1600, an institution that would eventually replace the Holy Roman Empire as a financial and political power. However, the Bishop of Rome had seen the threat developing in early 16th century, and had anointed Charles-Quint Emperor of the Holy Germanic Empire in 1520. But the latter failed in his mission to counter French power, as well as in his attempt to put an end to the Protestant Reformation, and his reign was not only ineffective but a serious setback for the Holy Roman Empire.