Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Palazzo Vecchio - a large brick building with many windows and crenellations like a castle, and a tall bell tower in the center. A center of medieval government.

Palazzo Vecchio, where Florence’s medieval government met (Florence, Italy, 1200s AD)

Different kinds of medieval governments

In the Middle Ages, Europe split up into many different states. Each state had its own system of government. Some of these, like DenmarkSpainFrance or England, were monarchies, and had kings or caliphs to rule them. Central Italy was ruled by the Pope, when it wasn’t in the Holy Roman Empire.

What’s a monarchy?
Who is the Pope?
Roman government
All our medieval Europe articles

How did they choose rulers?

Most of the time, kings and queens were the children of the last king or queen. But it was also pretty common for the rich men to get together and elect kings and queens, or for generals to fight their way into the position. Popes were also always elected.

Empires and republics

There were also two empires: the Eastern Roman Empire in Eastern Europe and the Holy Roman Empire that ruled most of Germany and Italy. Some parts of northern Italy were independent city-states with a republican government like ancient Rome.

The problem with medieval government

The main problem with all of these governments was that the kings and emperors of the Middle Ages weren’t very powerful. They tried to tell their subjects what to do, but a lot of the time their subjects just said “No” and didn’t pay any attention. The rulers didn’t have enough money to pay soldiers, so they couldn’t make people do what they wanted.

More about feudalism

The western European governments used feudalism to help the king keep control, but often this just caused more problems.

More about republics
What are mercenary soldiers?

In Italian republics like Florence and Genoa, there were a lot of civil wars, when one side wouldn’t accept the decision of the majority vote and they fought each other. Thousands of mercenary soldiers fought in these wars.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about medieval government? Still have questions? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: Medieval Europe game
More about feudalism

Bibliography and further reading about the Middle Ages:

More about feudalism
Crafts and Projects on the Middle Ages
More about the Middle Ages home