Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 August 2021
The chapter explores the paradoxes of the abundant sources for the west, where only a limited proportion of the population understood the dominant written language of communication, Latin; and until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the reams of fiscal and judicial records which survive come mostly from a fairly narrow band of senior clerics. But the clergy were not monolithic, and their impact on the actual practice of governance varied north and south of the Alps. Much depended on the extent to which principles of Roman law and the habit of living in towns persisted. Yet there is striking consistency both in the prerequisite virtues of a ruler propounded by clerical writers and in the essentials of inauguration ritual. The law which a king swore to uphold at his coronation was not made at will: he was expected to govern consensually and heed good counsel. Who could give such counsel and what constituted reasonable constraints on the king’s volition changed over time. In some realms, assemblies developed the authority to approve taxes and become law-makers in the late middle ages: the monarch’s exercise of his authority was tempered by popular demand.