During the second half of the ninth century, the office of Count—someone who rules over a county on behalf of the emperor—becomes heredity while counts themselves are given numerous counties in order to secure their loyalty in the Carolingian civil war following the death of Charlemagne. These counts start to hoard tax revenue for themselves as well as claiming supposedly royal property for themselves. Plus, they take over church appointments—instead of asking the ruling family in which position someone should be appointed, they simply fill it themselves. In addition to this, these counts begin to set up their own legal courts. This process of royal authority gradually being invested with non-royal authority is called the ‘devolution of power’, because the power which matters to the everyday, has become closer to the ground, so to speak.
Eventually, there exist over thirty principalities who no longer answer to the Carolingians. A sign of just how independent these territories became can be seen in their forbiddance of Carolingian rulers of even visiting the territories. To say that Carolingian power was in decline would be an underestimation.
In East Frankia, this devolution of power is not as much of a severe process. In West Frankia, power devolves to the level of the count. In East Frankia it devolved to the level of the duke (someone who rules over numerous counties and counts). As a result, East Frankia does not fragment into as many units (5-6 units compared to West Frankia’s thirty-odd).
During the course of the tenth century, the trajectories undertaken by West and East Frankia diverge even more. In East Frankia, the devolution of power stopped; a new ruling dynasty—the Otomian—emerged and managed to regain much of the lost power. In West Frankia, meanwhile, the devolution of power continued as fragmentation continued; the thirty-odd units exploded into hundreds of units. Here, royal authority becomes irrelevant.
Why this fragmentation occurs lies in part to the Viking raids being more severe in West Frankia than in East Frankia; this had to do with more favorable terrain. There is also an external threat: whereas East Frankia was able to redirect social animosity toward the pagan Slavs—they were easy picking due to their divided nature—in West Frankia, this was not so true, not when the closest neighbor was Islamic Spain. So in West Frankia, then, the social animosity was directed inward, amongst one another, instead of outward.
Between 980 and 1030, castles begin to exponentially increase in number. Since previously, castles were a public building controlled by the king—whose rulers, Castilians, were appointed by the king—this is a noteworthy event. Moreover, these castles are increasingly built out of stone instead of wood, thus bettering their defensive practicality. These castles are built by private individuals in defiance of the local count; these people view these castles as their own private property which is capable of being transferred to their children.
Why this proliferation happens has little to do with defense; the Viking raids had petered out some generations earlier. Castle possession happens because it is lucrative. Every Castilian who owns a castle controls a small territory—about fifteen miles in radius—called a Castilian, whose ruler is called a lord. Such lords collect taxes for themselves and spend time dreaming up new taxes which to impose upon the people while also establishing their own juridical power; in short, the Castilians do to the counts what the counts did to the Carolingians some generations earlier.
This is not an easy process, of course, since these Castilians are private individuals. To persuade the people of the validity of your power, often times they would resort to using knights as enforces—thugs—who would beat up people and their farm animals until they accepted a particular ruler’s lordship. So the explosion in the number of castles also results in an explosion of knights—one cannot have a criminal organization without criminals, after all. So you also see an explosion in the number of fiefs, or, parcels of land given to knights in exchange for their services. This period is what is sometimes called “the feudal revolution”.
It would be for a long time before the Capuchins could restore royal authority in West Frankia, or France, as it became increasingly known. Because the Capuchins were elected by a small group of aristocrats, they have no hereditary claim to the throne, something which takes a long time to establish. In East Frankia, meanwhile, the Carolingian dynasty died out completely. This is a positive since it becomes possible to reverse the trend of fragmentation with the swift imposition of a new ruling dynasty. This is the Otomian dynasty. It is this dynasty that manages what the Carolingians could not manage, a decisive victory against those who had been invading Europe; this is not a military victory, per se, but rather the implementation of a truce which though favorable to the invaders, with a stipulation being that tribute will be paid, it allows the native Ottomans to bide their time and concentrate their forces. In 933, the invaders are defeated militarily by Henry the 1st and again in 955, forcing the invaders to settle down in what today is Hungary. So the truce was the correct move, it did give the Otomian dynasty the time needed to gather their forces and overcome the invaders, thus legitimating their position as a ruling body.
Indeed, so powerful the Otomian dynasty becomes that eventually, King Otto, desiring the royal title of emperor, invades Italy and defeats some of the Pope’s foes in the North. He imitates Charlemagne and crowns himself king of the Lombards (despite the fact that no Lombards exist there at the time of his conquest). After, he is crowned emperor. Thus, we see the creation of the Holy Roman Empire, a territory which will include the Kingdom of East Frankia (or Germany), northern Italy (as conquered by Otto the 1st), and as of 1032, the region of Burgundy (in modern day France).
Following his crowning, Otto began to gain control over the papacy. Eventually, the papacy must notify the King of Germany when a new pope is elected and await approval before consecration. This is, of course, the exact same power possessed by the Byzantine emperors many years earlier. But in 1063, Otto goes even further and decrees that no one should elect anyone as Pope without first securing the emperor’s consent; thus, we see the start of where Popes being in the back pockets of emperors. This would result in political abuse, where sometimes, emperors would simply refuse to hold papal elections and instead appoint someone from his entourage as pope. (Which was not always good, since the local aristocrats had a tendency to murder imperial appointed popes.)